In Bangkok, street food isn’t just limited to the street. A tasting tour of classic Thai dishes can take you through the city’s many neighbourhoods, bustling weekend market stalls, low-rise shophouses with tables spilling out into the street, and even onto a boat cruising along the canals to floating markets.
And while the buzzy Thai capital has a maturing fine-dining scene, replete with glitzy restaurants and rooftop bars with panoramic views, it’s down at street level where you’ll find the heart and soul of Bangkok’s dining scene – and even a Michelin nod or two. Here are eight great street food dishes to tuck into and recommendations on where to find them.
1. Pad Thai at Thipsamai
This classic Thai dish has made it from the streets of Bangkok to tables around the world. It’s a seemingly simple dish of noodles stir-fried with chicken, prawns or pork – but it’s the tangy sauce of palm sugar, tamarind and lime that really sets this dish apart. The dish actually has quite recent origins: the story goes that it was invented in the 1930s during a rice shortage, to encourage the Thai people to eat more noodles. You won’t find a fresher plate than in the city’s capital – especially at Thipsamai. The restaurant’s original location in the historic Phra Nakhon district is one of the city’s oldest diners specialising in the dish. Service begins at 5pm, but expect a queue.
313-315 Maha Chai Road, Khwaeng Samran Rat Khet Phra Nakhon, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon; +662-226-6666
2. Mango Sticky Rice at Mae Varee
One of the freshest and most flavourful expressions of Thailand’s bounty of tropical fruit is khao niaow ma muang – mango sticky rice. The dessert is a delightfully simple street food snack with just three key ingredients: glutinous rice, ripe mango and rich coconut cream. Food markets are some of the best places to try the snack, as you’ll have your pick of vendors serving freshly made plates – one popular choice is Mae Varee at Sukhumvit Soi 55 in Thonglor, where the takeaway boxes of juicy mango sticky rice come sprinkled with crispy yellow mung beans for an extra textural crunch.
1 Thonglor Road, Khlong Tan Nuea, Watthana; +66 2 392 4804
3. Tom Yum Goong at Pee Aor
Sweet, sour, salty and spicy are the flavours that define Thai cuisine, and they come together beautifully in tom yum. This spicy-and-sour broth is suffused with the umami flavours of shrimp, the herbal kick of makrut lime leaves, fragrant lemongrass and galangal, and zesty lime juice. Slurp up a version upgraded with creamy coconut milk at Bangkok street food hotspot Pee Aor, a small shophouse restaurant close to the Ratchathewi BTS Station known for its generous portions and giant prawns.
68/51 Soi Phetchaburi 5, Thung Phaya Thai, Ratchathewi; +66 2 612 9013
4. Boat Noodles at a Floating Market
Kway Teow Rua, or boat noodles, are so named because they were originally served from the boats which plied the canals of Bangkok. A rich broth of soy sauce, fermented bean curd and often pig’s or cow’s blood create a complex, layered dish. It’s available throughout the city – but you can still try it the old-fashioned way with a visit to Khlong Lat Mayom floating market, 10 kilometres west of downtown. Take a seat at a low table by the waterfront where fresh bowls prepared on small boats will set you back about 30 baht (HK$8). Khlong Lat Mayom is only open on weekends; but some more popular (read: more touristed) options like Damnoen Saduak market can be visited during the week.
30/1 Moo 15 Bang Ramat Road, Bang Ramat, Taling Chan
5. Crab Omelette at Raan Jay Fai
When the Michelin Guide gave chef Jay Fai’s roadside restaurant the one-star nod, it turned this hidden foodie’s favourite into a queues-round-the-block kind of joint. Now its diminutive chef and her trademark ski goggles are almost as famous as her crab omelette. But the omelette is worth the wait and the price alike. At THB1000 (HK$250) it’s hardly cheap and cheerful, but that crisp exterior gives way to silky egg and generous, juicy chunks of crab. There’s a reservations system in place allowing you to book ahead – but think months in advance, not days.
327 Samran Rat Intersection; +66 2 223 9384
6. Khao Man Gai at Watsana Khao Man Gai
Locals get just as excited for Bangkok street food as visitors do – this is especially true for a beloved staple like khao man gai (Thai chicken rice). Adapted from Chinese-style Hainan chicken rice, poached chicken is served over rice that’s been cooked with chicken stock and fat for added flavour. It typically comes with a bowl of broth on the side and a tangy sauce that’s less sticky or sweet than versions found in Singapore or China. Watsana Khao Man Gai specialises in the dish – and has a loyal following to show for it.
9/275 Phutthabucha Road; +66 87 711 6456
7. Cha Yen at Cha Tra Mue
You’re never far from an ice-cold beverage in Bangkok – handy, when the average daytime temperature hovers around 30°C. The vividly orange cha yen (Thai-style iced milk tea) is one of the most popular. The colour comes adding sweetened condensed milk to a blend of black tea and spices, served over ice for a refreshing drink that’s distinct from its other Asian counterparts. While cha yen can be found at pretty much every restaurant, stall and diner in town, try the version at Cha Tra Mue – it dates back to 1945, and has outlets across the city (as well as one in Hong Kong).
Various locations including Siam Paragon, 991 Rama 1 Road
8. Pla Pao at Night Markets
There are various types of fish used for pla pao (salt grilled fish) from snakehead to tilapia, but the prep is the same. Stuffed with lemongrass, makrut lime leaves and sometimes basil or pandan leaves, the fish is then coated in a thick layer of salt and barbecued low and slow over charcoal. Peeling back the crust reveals juicy meat: it’s essential to dip it in the accompanying nam jim sauce, which bursts with incredible flavour from the garlic, chillies, coriander root, lime and fish sauce that go into it. Pla Pao is a staple of night markets throughout the city – such as the cacophony of stalls and carts selling popular Bangkok street food close to the river at Tha Pra Chan.