So we’d heard a thing or two about Bangkok’s reputation for being a real mecca for street food…which, for those who know us well, meant it was finally time for us to make the pilgrimage here. And so we came with empty stomachs …and boy did we eat :D
Jesse and I often talk excitedly about how much we love good street food, but we really have never visited anywhere where street food is so prevalent, abundant and incredibly interwoven into everyday life as it is here in Bangkok. Every sidewalk, every corner, every alleyway you walk down has food stalls lining it. There are morning markets, night markets and lunchtime markets in every neighborhood. There are permanent food stalls, there are the ones that set up only at certain times of the day and then there are mobile food carts that sometimes come right to you. It is unbelievable and overwhelming. But we made it our mission to try as many foods as we could in our 6 days here. Our strategy was to eat as many small meals during the day as possible, always sharing a single portion so we didn’t fill up too quickly. Luckily for us, the food here is portioned like a snack already, and prices rarely cost more than the equivalent of $1-2 CDN. Perfect!
We even bought a book called “Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls” by Chawadee Nualkhair which gave us direction on which neighbourhoods to visit and helped weed through which stalls to try, and what foods to seek out. The book actually came with schematic maps of each of the highlighted neighbourhoods with big stars beside where each of the food stalls could be found which we initially thought was a great feature. Unfortunately we soon decided that there is no way these maps ever got edited, because in almost every case the map led us completely astray which always resulted in us backtracking several blocks or having to stop and ask a few different local people where we could find the stall only to be told we were way off base. One time it led us so far off that we ended up walking an extra 20 minutes from where the map directed us and needed to cross 8-lanes of insane traffic (thank goodness for overpass bridges) before we finally found the place! At least once we did finally find the right stalls, the food lived up to the recommendation. Oh the things we do for good food!
We tried fishball curry noodles soups, fried chicken, stuffed rice noodles, fish maw soup, green tapioca squiggles in coconut milk (lod chong), pork & egg jok (aka congee), deep fried bananas, pad thai, several grilled meats on a stick, sliced fish rice porridge, some sort of crepe spring roll, steamed sticky rice with banana & black bean, mango sticky rice, green papaya salad (some of the spiciest stuff we ate, oddly), sausages on a stick, boiled chicken & rice, lots of fresh fruit, a few different iced drinks and our all-time favourite, a mussel omelette pancake thingy. Deeeeelicious!!
Some small tidbits we read and observed about Bangkok food culture is that for some it’s considered a status symbol to buy your food from a stall to bring home and heat up to eat for dinner, rather than cooking yourself. I really don’t blame them, since the food on every corner, no matter where or what time of night always tasted incredible to us. As a result, you’ll often see people ordering food “to go”, where the vendor essentially packages everything into clear little plastic bags tied with elastic bands for people to bring home. Just picture someone ordering a noodle soup to go. Noodles, herbs, meat, sauces and even the piping hot broth each in their own little plastic baggie. Salads, curries, sticky rice, satay right off the grill….all put into little clear plastic bags. Incredible. Another thing that is amazing is how fresh the food is. You can see the vendors chopping, crushing, brushing, blending, grilling and frying their food continuously throughout the day. The ingredients taste clean and fresh, and are full of flavour. It puts all the Toronto street food (and restaurant food) to shame, truly. For two people who already have a pathetic track record of bringing our lunch to work, we’d never ever bother if we lived in a city like this!
Just to give you a sense of how permeated into Bangkok culture street food is, we read from our book that in 1952 there were about 2,500 street food stall vendors in the city. Today, there are about 500,000 serving Bangkok’s roughly 10 million residents who apparently buy street food at least once a day. Another quote from Nualkhair’s book that we wanted to share was that “Bangkok’s street food industry not only provides delicious food at affordable prices, but it’s also one of the means financially available for Thailand’s less privileged to move up in society – one of the few industries in Thailand that offers such an opportunity.” We thought that was pretty cool.
Well, hopefully the photos will give you a better sense of how our street food marathon went, and the awesome food vendors we met along the way. Amazingly we still didn’t try everything we wanted in our time here, so I guess we’ll just have to come back again :)