Thailand's Street Food Culture

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boat market in thailand
Updated: 02/04/2019 | February 4, 2019

It’s 6pm in Bangkok, and all over, street vendors are busy selling food.

Thais do almost all of their grocery shopping on the street. Locals walk around with little bags full of rice, curry, noodles, or soup. With food so cheap and kitchens so few and far between, very few Thais in Bangkok cook their own meals. Sidewalk chairs are filled with coworkers sharing meals before they go home. Eating here is a social activity where hunger pangs, not the time of day, tell you when to eat.

Bangkok is a gastronomical dream, and wandering its streets is heaven. Stalls line the streets, selling everything from snacks to sit-down meals. Sections often specialize in certain products, and the time of day dictates which stalls will be where with the precision of a Swiss watch.

How to Eat in Bangkok

thailand's coconut drink and fresh coconuts sold on the streets
Waking up for breakfast, I strolled down the street. All around me Thais were buying breakfast (usually fruit or soup). Workers were buying their lunches, loading up on rice and curry, noodle dishes, and soup. The woman next to me was buying fruit.

I grabbed my fried bananas and went off to explore the city. After a few hours, I was hungry again. Thai food is delicious but not very filling, which is one of the reasons why Thais are always eating. They eat constantly throughout the day because they eat small meals. Thais traditionally eat very low-calorie meals, too, though the rise of the Western diet has recently led to an increase in obesity. Yet, for the most part, Thais are still tiny and much healthier than us—we could learn something from them.

street vendor in thailand

Now I was in Chinatown looking for a pre-lunch snack. The bananas were good, but I was craving something more. Around me were vendors selling candies, fried fish, Pad Thai, fruit, and meat on a stick—basically anything you could think of.

It was a buffet, and I wanted to choose everything.

fried fish, noodles, pad thai and other thai street food, dinner at the market in Bangkok

I decided on some chicken. The smell was powerful as the cook pasted it with spices over the grill. He handed it over to me, and as it steamed, I put it in my mouth. It was hot, but good. The chicken had a nice garlic taste to it. These BBQ sticks of meat are my favorite Thai street food. They make for the best late-night snack. Knowing my appetite, I also picked some chopped pineapple for the road and headed off to explore more.

fried eggs sold on the street in thailand

Lunchtime rolled around, and I sat myself down at a little stall. Thais were trickling out of their offices and descending on these vendors for their midday meals. I ordered some curry, Western style (mild). Thais love their curry and all throughout the streets, the smell of chili fills the air. The seats around me filled with locals chatting about the day. My Thai wasn’t good enough to understand, so I just enjoyed my meal that was (still) too spicy for me.

After lunch, I continued trekking around. I let my nose guide me. I nibbled on my pineapple and picked up some fried wontons. When that was finished, I picked up some spring rolls. I find Thai spring rolls to be delicious—they’re light, crispy, and the sweet chili sauce adds just the right element of spice.

pad thai making street stall in the night market bangkok

Dinnertime arrived as I made my way back downtown. It had been a good day of eating, and I was still stuffed. Dinner was going to be a small meal. Looking at all the shops around, I wondered what to eat. I had eaten so much already. I could smell curry and soup, and hear the frying of chicken and the cooking of fish. I’m never going to go hungry in this city.

I sat down for some pat gao paow. It’s a chili dish with minced chicken and basil. I ordered it mai pet (not spicy) and ate it over a bowl of rice. Even to Thais, “not spicy” means a little chili, and for every mouthful I had, I needed two mouthfuls of water. Despite having lived in Thailand for a few months now, I’m still unaccustomed to spicy foods. I finished it off, my mouth as hot as a volcano as I thanked the cook.

pad thai bought on the road in thailand

After a long day of eating, it was time to lie down on my couch, unbuckle the belt, and watch some TV. But not before I got some snacks for later.

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