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Eating Street Food in Bangkok

Street Food in Bangkok cannot be matched by any other place in the World. It is varied, creative and delicious, and Americans coming to Thailand must experience having lunch and dinner in a crowded space wedged between market sellers on Bangkok’s sidewalks.

Americans are not used to Street Food, and they have some apprehension in experiencing street-side dining. Every restaurant in the US must regularly prove to authorities that their establishment has almost no chance of sanitary problems, and Americans can eat almost anywhere in their home country assured that the dinner house has all the precautions necessary to protect their health. When traveling to Third World environments, Americans are naturally nervous eating without the controlling safety net. Stories abound of tourists to Mexico returning home with massive stomach problems, and there are regular warnings to be extremely careful when venturing outside the country

In regards to Bangkok Street Food, the fears are pretty much unfounded. True, the condition of many street kitchens and their food storage practices would give a food inspector in the US a coronary, but speaking from personal experience and the experience of many old timer expats eagerly eating their way around the City for decades, it is extremely rare to hear about anyone getting ill from eating Street Food. A quick inspection and a drop or two of common sense can keep one safe. You can see the food actually being prepared, and the ingredients are usually fresh from local markets. Make sure it is relatively clean (many Thais are over the top in making a space super clean), and don’t drink the water unless it comes directly from a bottle (or better yet, stick to a bottle of beer — don’t add ice). Having plenty of Thais eating in the street stand helps verify the safety.

As you get to know Thai people on a personal level, you quickly realize that in Thailand, cooking at home – a major part of domestic life in western countries – is seen as more of a hobby than anything else. This comes directly from the deeply ingrained love affair that Thai culture has with street food – cheap, fast, delicious, and plentiful. Why cook at home when there’s so much available just outside?

Thai Street Food is fresh, usually picked from the fields just one day before eating. Thai food is loaded with fresh spices and flavors and can be a wonderful experience for the palate. There are some that say that the amazing variety of ingredients and touches of flair that make up Thai food are simply a hodgepodge of all the best traditions and techniques from Burma, Laos, China, India and Cambodia, among others, and mixed together to come up with Thai cuisine. But Thai food has emerged as a point of national pride for almost every Thai.

The real secret about Thai dining: the best food in Thailand is served by street vendors and at basic mom-and-pop restaurants, often temporarily built on a Bangkok sidewalk. Many of the best places have folding camp tables and cheap plastic patio chairs, and the only decoration is a wall calendar with the King’s picture (and it is probably a few years old).

Thai habits also lend themselves to street meals. Since Thais normally eat many small meals rather than three squares and traditionally prefer to meet outside the house, street food suits them. Many Thai dishes can be cooked relatively quickly, and Thais are able to take a quick break for a bowl of Tom Yum or a freshly sautéed Pad Thai. A hearty dinner from a good Bangkok Street Food vendor should never exceed the equivalent of US $2.

In the street right next to the condo building in Bangkok my wife and I once lived in, there was a wonderful noodle place right outside the front door. It became a place where the condo building’s residents met and got to know one another. It became a very nice community center for the building. It was the best place to get to know your neighbor. And the extra bonus was that the noodles were absolutely wonderful.

It is wise to learn some of the common Thai dishes that you can recite to the cook (who also often takes the orders, cleans the tables, washes the plates and sweeps the floor — or pavement). Usually there is no one working the street food shops that can speak English, and there is little chance of finding a menu or menu board in anything but Thai language. This is all part of the adventure of it all.

After a hearty noodle dinner, the next step is to find another street vendor specializing in Thai deserts. There are plenty and lots of variety, and I suggest sampling everything. My favorite treats after dinner are the Thai waffles. There are lots of varieties, but I like the fat little waffles that are stuffed with fruit, like bananas, mangoes or strawberry.

Bangkok’s street food rated among best in Asia
Bangkok has been chosen as one of Asia’s 10 greatest street food cities with pad see ew fried noodles, som tam papaya salad, and moo ping grilled pork among the most popular street food items.

The other nine Asian cities named by CNNGo.com as the greatest street food cities are Penang in Malaysia, Taipei, Fukuoka in Japan, Hanoi, Singapore, Seoul, Xi’an in China, Manila, and Phnom Penh. None was ranked as No1.

“Bangkok is a street food heavyweight; one can eat well in the city without ever setting foot inside a restaurant,” Lina Goldberg wrote in the article posted on the website on Friday.

“Bangkok street food culture is built around the Thai habit of eating many small meals throughout the day.”

The author selected 10 street food items as the most recommended in Bangkok. They are pad see ew, som tam, moo ping, guay teow rua boat noodles, khao pad pu fried rice with crab, moo dad diew air-dried pork, kanom jeen rice noodle, cha yen thai-style milked tea, khao niew ma muang mango with sweetened sticky rice, and khanom krok coconut pudding.

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