Although the rules have changed in recent years and the street food scene in Bangkok is not quite what it once was, the Thai capital is still one of the world’s top foodie destinations and a wonderland for anyone who enjoys eating.
The range of food sold at night markets, from street carts and out of small open restaurants is almost unrivaled – so to make sure you don’t miss out on anything, here’s our guide to Bangkok street food and the 26 dishes and snacks you need to try while you’re there.
1. Pad Thai
Let’s start with perhaps the most famous Thai street food dish of them all, pad Thai. The name translates as “Thai stir-fry”, and it refers to a mixture of fried noodles, egg, tofu, chicken, shrimp and others. It’s served with a lime wedge to squeeze over the top and you can also add chili flakes, crushed peanut, vinegar and fish sauce according to your preference. A classic of the Thai street food scene that is available in Bangkok and just about everywhere else in the country, this should be among the first things you try on arriving in the Thai capital.
Rice porridge is a popular breakfast across most of East Asia, and if you’re looking for a traditional and inexpensive morning meal, this is an ever-reliable option. The rice is boiled up in large vats by the side of the road, and you can either choose to take it away or sit down on a low plastic chair and eat it right there. There are usually a couple of types on offer, including sweet versions too, so you can still try it even if you don’t want to eat pork.
A classic the world over wherever food is sold on the street, fried chicken is a popular favorite in Thailand and is available in many locations around the capital. You can buy a piece and munch it as you walk – or if you want something more substantial, you can order a portion of rice and perhaps some other accompaniments to make it into a full meal.
In Bangkok, you will see many barbecue stands grilling up pieces of meat on sticks, and one of the most common is moo ping, grilled pork. The pork is flattened before it is poked onto the skewer, ensuring it is cooked thoroughly and evenly. It is usually handed over covered in a sweet-and-savory soy-based sauce, which makes it even more delicious.
If you travel in Isaan, the north-eastern part of Thailand, you will see chicken being grilled by the roadside, often for people taking buses or other modes of public transport to snack on during the journey. However, if you don’t have time to head to Isaan, you can also enjoy this most delectable of street food specialties in Bangkok – in Isaan, it’s traditionally eaten with sticky rice, and usually, vendors sell that too if you want to go for the whole experience.
An enduring favorite you can pick up pretty much anywhere in Bangkok is kuay teow nam – or rice noodle soup. Along with the noodles themselves, the soup is usually filled with other ingredients including fish balls, vegetables and more, and you can then add condiments like crushed peanuts, chili flakes, fish sauce and chili vinegar. It’s a perfect breakfast dish – but it can be eaten at any other time of the day too.
As a tourist arriving in Bangkok, there are lots of street food treats that seem instantly appealing, things like moo ping or gai tod. However, if you want to go deeper and sample some of the other street food snacks beloved of Thais everywhere, make sure you sample things like pla pao too. In many places around the capital, you will see fish covered in a thick coating of salt being grilled on street barbecues. The salt helps protect the fish from the heat at the same time as seasoning it – and when it’s ready, you can just peel off the skin and savor the delicate and succulent meat inside.
In Bangkok, there are many places where stalls set up each evening to sell a range of dishes accompanied by a plate of rice, and this is one of the most inexpensive ways of finding a cheap but delicious meal. You can select whichever options look the most tempting and the stall owner will serve them up for you. One to look out for is green curry with chicken – you can also order this in more upmarket restaurants or places aimed at foreign tourists – but the street food version is perhaps even more delicious.
As well as chicken curry sold at from night market stalls, you will also find many places offering a range of other curries with rice. The word “curry” covers a whole range of dishes in Thailand, so the best way is just to find something that looks tasty and give it a go.
The meat from pig trotters is among the tenderest parts of the animal, and when slowly stewed and served over a bed of rice, the result is amazing. Not the most common of Bangkok street foods, but also not that hard to find – and definitely one to taste before you leave the city.
Khao soi is a dish of noodles in a curry soup, usually with chicken. It is a northern specialty from Chiangmai and around, and the curry includes spices that are not commonly found in Thai cooking, betraying its influences of Myanmar from across the border. It’s also widely available in Bangkok, and, due to its surprising combination of flavors, is a dish you shouldn’t pass up on when you see it being sold.
A classic all over Thailand, pad gaprao is a simple dish of Thai basil stir-fried with either minced pork or chicken – and usually a generous dose of chili. This is a very common dish, and it’s one of the standard options at roadside eateries where long-distance buses stop to break up the journey – and it’s also easy to find at night markets, small restaurants and from mobile carts throughout Bangkok. Served with a portion of rice, you can also ask for a kai dao, a fried egg, if you want to make it a bit more filling.
A perfect snack at any time of the day that will cost you next to nothing, this is a Thai-style omelet with deliciously crispy edges fried up in front of you and served over rice with sweet chili sauce or fish sauce with chopped fresh chili.
A more elaborate version of kai jeow is hoi nang rom tod, a Thai stuffed omelet with oysters. As with most of the street food classics in Bangkok, it’s easy to find, and it’s another specialty that should be high on your list of priorities to sample while you’re in the Thai capital.
Some of the food you see on the streets of Bangkok may seem a little strange to first timers, in which case you might prefer to start with something more familiar and less exotic – so fried rice is always a solid fallback plan. Fried rice in Thailand is always cheap and usually delicious, and as ever, you are free to add the usual condiments to enjoy it just the way you like it.
Originally a dish from China’s Hainan island – and often known as Hainanese chicken in English – this is a tasty meal that is popular in most of Southeast Asia. Chicken is boiled and cut into bite-sized chunks that are then placed on top of a bed of rice. The juices then drip down, perfuming the rice and creating an irresistible meal that is available everywhere from street-side stalls right up to fancy upmarket restaurants.
A tasty snack that’s perhaps slightly more associated with Malaysia and Indonesia but that is a firm favorite in Thailand too. Pieces of meat on skewers are grilled over charcoal barbecues before being served up with a rich peanut sauce. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the meat used is usually chicken or mutton – but in Thailand, pork is also commonly available.
Another Isaan specialty that is worth tracking down and sampling in Bangkok too, Isaan sausage is grilled on sticks and served up accompanied by a few pieces of cabbage, cucumber and some chilies to nibble on as you eat it. They’re juicy and bursting with a slightly sweet flavor, meaning they always sell well wherever they’re available.
Many foods from Isaan are now popular all over Thailand, and som tum, a spicy salad made with green unripe papaya is another perfect example. The papaya is pounded in a large wooden bowl along with other ingredients like crushed peanuts, fish sauce and lime juice. If you’re not used to spicy food, ask them not to put in too much chili – because the version from Isaan is known for being fiery!
If you stay in the Khao San Road area, each evening you’ll see carts of assorted fried bugs being pushed along the street. Although there are parts of Thailand where these kinds of delights are genuinely consumed, these are aimed more at curious (or drunk) tourists. There’s nothing wrong with them, though, and the fried grasshoppers are actually quite tasty. It’s always fun to try once, so why not have a go and see which your favorite bugs turn out to be?
Also on the Khao San Road, in recent years, a few enterprising Thais have taken to spit roasting whole crocodiles in the street for curious visitors to try. This is certainly not a local specialty – and most Thais are as shocked to see it as anyone foreigners – but it’s there, it’s a chance to get a snap for your Instagram account and it gives you a story to tell when you get back home – so why not?
Thai roti is a super-sweet street food dessert that’s quite similar to a crispy pancake. The amazingly skilled vendors stretch out a dough ball over a griddle, cover it in butter, fill it with chocolate sauce and banana, drench it in more chocolate sauce and condensed milk and cut it into bite-sized morsels for you to enjoy. Other flavors are possible, and all of them equally appealing, making this a treat not to miss.
For those with a sweet tooth, you also can’t miss out on trying sticky rice with mango. The rice is infused with coconut milk, which pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the mango, making this a favorite with almost everyone who tries it.
In Bangkok, you’ll probably come across shops or stalls selling rows of dainty and beautifully decorated mini pancakes with all kinds of enticing fillings. And when you see them, make sure you try – because they taste as good as they look.
Durian is regarded as the “king of fruits” – but it also stinks so much that it’s banned on most regional airlines. It’s difficult to export, making it hard to find outside of Southeast Asia – so while you’re in Bangkok, make sure you take the opportunity to try!
If you’re looking for something to wash down all these tasty snacks and treats, you could go for a Chang, a Singha or a Leo, Thailand’s three most popular beers. Alternatively, if you prefer something non-alcoholic, order a Thai Iced tea. They’re a sweet, flavorful and super-refreshing drink that’s perfect for the Bangkok heat, and you shouldn’t leave the city without trying.
Foodie heaven and a playground for street food connoisseurs
When you arrive in Bangkok, be prepared to be blown away by the range of delicious street food option on offer. If you enjoy eating outside, Bangkok is a match for any city in the world, and the biggest problem is probably just going to be deciding where to start.