Tickle Your Taste Buds on the Streets of Bangkok
When I mention my travels to Bangkok, the first thing people ask is, "How was the food?"
I spent a week in Bangkok. It was humid, smoggy at times, noisy and delicious. We ate at cheap diners and tourist hot spots, like Asiatique and the Flower Market Pier. We fine dined at the tallest al fresco restaurant in the world, Sirocco. And grabbing delectable bites from street vendors along crowded walkways.
Food, good food, is easy to find. And even with the language barrier, it's easy to order.
Bangkok is the perfect place to try new things. Surrender your control and let the street food surprise you. It was a joy to travel around the city via river boats, taxis and tuk-tuks. It was thrilling to indulging in Thai food and meeting the locals. Bangkok is the kind of city where you can relax and go with the flow.
Thai people understand that foreigners are new to there type of food. They generally won't give you anything to spicy or pungent without you asking for it first. I like a little heat. So, sampling their spicy sauces was a delight.
And Thai food is cheap. Well, most of it. Expect to pay higher prices at restaurants in tourist areas. The quality and quantity will make up for the extra cost. However, alcohol beverages are over-priced. But if you step of the beaten path, you'll find a plethora of street vendors that charge less than 50 Bhat per dish. That's about $1! Why wouldn't you sample new dishes at that cost? And if you don't like it, don't eat. Move on. Because there will be another cart within steps of the last, offering mouth-watering fare.
In the China Town district, we found a vendor selling pork meatballs and mini hot dogs on skewers. With a picky 7-year-old in tow, we stopped for the hot dogs. But the meatballs were my favorite.
The skewers, with 4 meatballs each, are grilled on a small pit in front of you. People bustle around you as you watch your food being prepared. The meatballs are placed in a small plastic bag and topped with Sweet Thai Chili Sauce. You add your own cabbage. (We watched the locals to learn this trick). And you eat them right off the stick. No utensils required. The best part…they cost about 60 cents a skewer! I went back for seconds.
Still hungry? In the same area, we found a vendor selling Thai soups. Another inexpensive option that was pleasing to our palettes. We saw a number of locals perched at tables slurping up soup. We had to order a bowl to see what all the fuss was about. And we were glad we did!
The vendor did not speak English but that didn’t stop us from pointing and grunting to get our meal. A game played for a few minutes that was well worth it. We managed to order a soup in a savory beef broth with glass noodles, carrots, bean sprouts, green onions and chunks of meat. Our 90-cent meal was simple yet filled our bellies.
We joined the locals at the mismatched dining table along the street curb. Concrete beneath our feet. The table strewn with bowls of cabbage and condiments like chili flakes, sugar, vinegar and fish sauce. A cup of chop sticks waiting. Most streets vendors have some sort of seating available but often it is shared among strangers. Thai people will watch and smile when they see you are enjoying their hospitalities.
We sat under the hot sun and slurped the broth and noodles. A sweat breaking on our brow. We shared that bowl of soup like beggars with an empty stomach. Thai people don’t generally drink all the broth because the noodles and meat are quite filling. But we polished it off.
Another day, we found ourselves meandering the markets of Khao San Road. And with the heat, a drink was necessary. We found a street vendor selling fresh coconut milk. The vendor threw a blanket over a metal utility box on the sidewalk to offer us a place to sit. She used a machete to cut the top off the coconut and handed us the fruit with a straw. We eagerly passed the coconut among the three of us. But the vendor wasn’t done with us yet. Once the liquid was gone, she scrapped the inside of the coconut and we ate the sweet, moist flesh with our fingers. That was a dollar well spent.
But if fresh coconut milk isn’t for you, wash your meal down with a Thai Iced Tea. Not your traditional lemon iced tea. It’s made from a strong brewed tea, then spiced with whatever flavor you fancy. Chocolate, Vanilla, Coconut, Mango, but we went gaga over the strawberry flavor. The tea is sweetened with sugar and condensed milk and served over ice. It cost about $1.50 but it was enough to share between two people.
If these experiences haven’t gotten you drooling, maybe these will.
You know it’s street food when it’s on display and cooked right in front of you. And it’s easy to order. Just point and hold up your fingers to indicate how many and…voila! You have a cheap and succulent meal at your fingertips.
Asiatique, a tourist hot-spot for dining, shopping in hundreds of markets and fair rides. But don’t be fooled by thinking the only dining options are the over-priced restaurants. Street vendors are woven among the vendors selling their wares. We found a vendor grilling meat skewers (chicken, beef, fish) smother in barbecue sauce. The cost was $1.20 per skewer. And we went back every day to get our share. Don’t be afraid to try some of the sauces laid out for customers. There was a spicy red sauce that we used for dipping. It set our taste buds on fire but we kept going back for more.
At 7-11's (which are on every block-even across the street from each other), you can buy grilled sandwiches. You pick your packaged sandwich (We liked the ham and cheese but tried the pizza and spicy chicken, as well) and the store clerk puts the sandwich in a heated press. For $1.25, you have a warm grilled cheese sandwich to enjoy on the go. Don’t forget to grab a handful of napkins.
And for dessert? Banana Crepes. A little pricier than most street food at $3. But it's a fun experience to watch the vendor make them. The cracking of eggs, the pouring and swirling, the chopping of bananas...all done with flare. Served warm and drizzled with Nutella. Lip-smacking!
If you are ever unsure of what to order, hover around and watch the Thai people. What are they ordering? And how? Food is easy to identify. If it's grilled, deep-fried, cooked in a clay oven or barbecued, it is easy to identify. Pork, beef, chicken, fish, prawns, squid...they are easy to recognize. So, you don't have to worry about eating insects, snakes, toad or other exotic meats. These are almost never served by street vendors. But you will see them sold at markets. If you dare to venture into one. They tend to be smelly and dirty. But if you want fresh fruit or vegetables, it’s the place to be. You’ll buy rose apples or lychee fruit from a vendor whose neighbor is selling pigs ears or frogs legs.
If trying insects, they will look like insects. Legs and all. They are deep-fried and crispy. We’ve heard they taste like potato chips. We were up for trying some but were not fortunate enough to find a vendor selling them. We did see a vendor walking Khao San Road selling fried scorpions but that seemed a little out of my league. Maybe next time?
Need something to wash down your cheap eats? Streets vendors usually offer cold water to their patrons. You can help yourself from the cooler. There are usually metal cups sitting near by. Or you can grab a soda or a beer from a nearby shop to bring to the table. Street vendors don't mind. Also, if you drink the local beer, you’ll save big.
When paying, the prices are usually marked on a sign in Thai Bhat. We found that most signage was in English. Make sure you have smaller bills and change as it is hard for vendors to break large bills.
So, take a stroll through the markets and streets of Bangkok. And when your tummy starts to rumble, don’t be afraid to try the street food.
And remember to say, “Khob Khun Kha” (female) or “Khob Khun Krap” (male). That’s thank you in Thai.