Famous for its fresh ingredients and strong contrasting flavours, Thai food has won the world over. Though Thai restaurants have popped up in practically every major city, few can match the flavours and variety found on the streets of Thailand itself. In Thailand, locals will tell you that simple and fresh street food is as good as it gets. There’s no need to make reservations at a fine dining restaurant to experience Thai food at its best. Instead, all you need to do is head to the best food stalls located right on the street.
Bangkok is far and away Thailand’s food capital. Food from all corners of the country can be found lining streets and marketplaces. If you’ve been to Bangkok you’ll know that it’s hard not to run into a food vendor on the street. There are, however, a few places to eat that are better than others.
If you want to feel like a true Bangkokian, travel to Silom, the main business district of Bangkok. With its towering skyscrapers and sleek sky trains, Silom is worlds away from the quaint countryside full of temples and rice paddies that many people imagine Thailand to be. Nevertheless, this metropolitan district is quietly home to some of the best street food in the city.
Visit Silom at lunchtime on a weekday, when the thousands upon thousands of locals that work in Silom exit their chic offices and take to the streets to grab lunch. Business-minded street vendors set up their stalls and sell local favorites like som tam (papaya salad), labp (minced meat salad), and a variety of soups, curries, and sausages.
Or Tor Kor Market (OTK Market) in Bangkok’s Chatuchak district is a favorite among foodies. Consistently rated as one of the top fresh food markets in the world, it also features a Singapore-style hawker centre that serves up traditional Thai dishes made with the best ingredients from around the country.
Try tucking into popular noodle dishes like kuai-tiao or rad-na, or deliciously spicy soups such as tom kha (coconut soup) and tom yum (lemongrass soup). OTK is also an excellent place to sample exotic fruits from all around Thailand. Vendors here sell everything from succulent mangoes, to lesser known fruits like rose apples, longans (aka ‘dragon’s eyes’), lychee, gac and dragon fruit.
Take a ride through Bangkok and you’ll soon notice that storefront signs throughout the city are a jumbled mix of Thai writing and Chinese characters. This is especially true in Bangkok’s Chinatown, which is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. If you’re a fan of Chinese food or want to try out Thai food with a strong Chinese influence, then take a tuk-tuk to Chinatown on any given evening and enjoy sampling food from the countless stalls lining the streets. Chicken feet, Peking duck, dim sum, and other highlights of Chinese cuisine can be had in this unusual corner of the city.
Southern Thailand is home to the country’s finest beaches and encompasses tourist hotspots like Phuket and Krabi. Not surprisingly, these seaside locations are best known for their fresh seafood. Crab (pboo) is a local specialty and is typically served steamed to perfection or mixed in with fried rice (kao pad pboo). Another popular dish in Southern Thailand is green curry, which gets its color from Thai basil and chilies. The dish is most often combined with chicken, but is available in vegetarian varieties as well. Those staying in Phuket will want to head to Phuket town – an area where locals live – for the most authentic food stalls.
There’s a stark contrast between the white sand beaches of Southern Thailand and the deep green mountains of Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. Northern Thailand is in fact more aligned with its neighbor Laos than Central and Southern Thailand from both a cultural and culinary perspective. Prathu Chang Puak market is a good place to get an introduction to Northern Thai cuisine and the local dialect. Lapb, considered the national dish of Laos, is a local favorite. The spicy minced meat salad is usually made from chicken, duck, pork, or seafood. Khao soi, a soup made from deep-fried egg noodles, is another must try. Visitors will also find that sticky rice (kao neuw) tends to be more popular in this part of the country than steamed jasmine rice.