The best street food in Bangkok

best street food in Bangok, Thailand, thai food, street vendors, street food in sukhumvit

The best street food in Bangkok

  |   39 Comments

This is the website of travel writer, Michael Turtle. After working in broadcast journalism for a decade in Australia, Michael left Sydney to travel the world indefinitely and write about his discoveries.

The best street food in Bangkok

The sizzle hits my ears at the same time as the aroma reaches my nostrils. In the little stall on the side of the road, tonight’s dinner is being cooked.

Bangkok’s street food is famous – and for good reason. But it can be confronting for a foreigner. All along the sidewalks of the busy neighbourhoods, there are dozens of options and not all look appetising to the untrained eye. To get the inside word, I’ve decided to go to an expert on Bangkok’s street food, Chawadee Nualkhair.

best street food in Bangok, Thailand, thai food, street vendors, street food in sukhumvit

Chawadee is a Thai-American writer who lives in Bangkok and writes a fantastic blog about food called Bangkok Glutton. She’s also just written a book about the best street food in the city. I feel in good hands.

“There seems to be a convergence where street food vendors are getting more ‘restaurant-like’ and work as hard on their dishes as any chef (like Jay Fai, the Western food ‘street stall’ Uncle John,” she tells me.

“And restaurants are going more casual and serving dishes that are considered ‘street food’ (like Soul Food Mahanakorn). So in a way they are influencing each other.”

best street food in Bangok, Thailand, thai food, street vendors, street food in sukhumvit

best street food in Bangok, Thailand, thai food, street vendors, street food in sukhumvit

Eating at Sukhumvit Soi 38

To get a good sense of these ‘gourmet’ street meals, Chawadee has recommended I head to Sukhumvit Soi 38, which is well-known for its cheap and casual food after 8pm. Equipped with a few of her suggestions, I arrive hungry and excited.

One of the biggest fears of foreigners is getting sick from a meal off the pavement. Chawadee’s words ring in my ear.

“You can get sick from a food stall, but also from an upscale restaurant,” she explains.

“You have to be on the lookout for places that have high turnover, good quality ingredients that are refrigerated, and something of a name that they want to protect. That is part of the reason why I focus on very well-known food stalls in my book.”

best street food in Bangok, Thailand, thai food, street vendors, street food in sukhumvit

All the vendors here at Sukhumvit Soi 38 seem to fit that description. There isn’t too much traffic but the little road off the main artery is busy with diners. Most are locals.

I wander up and down a couple of times to scope out the area and get a sense of the street. Everywhere seems clean and some of the stalls are attached to small street restaurants in the shops along one side. There’s a huge selection of cuisine on offer and it’s hard to know exactly where to start. Luckily here, because the vendors know tourists like to pop in, they have some menus printed in English. But that’s not always the case.

best street food in Bangok, Thailand, thai food, street vendors, street food in sukhumvit

“What’s your advice for foreigners who want to try street food but don’t know what to order or how the whole thing works?” I ask Chawadee.

“Just copy everyone else,” she says quite simply.

“That’s the first and main rule to follow. If there’s something that looks good on someone else’s table, just point to it. That makes it easy on everyone involved!”

On this occasion, though, Chawadee has recommended I try the bamee with crab and pork. I ask at a couple of stalls until I find someone who is making it.

best street food in Bangok, Thailand, thai food, street vendors, street food in sukhumvit

Another great thing about street food is that it’s quick. I’ve only been sitting down at the plastic table on the footpath for a couple of minutes when my meal arrives. It’s a large bowl of noodles in a light broth with the meat minced and garnished with some vegetables and a cracker. I take a couple of bites… and it’s delicious! I have not been led astray. Oh, and it cost 50 baht, which is less than two dollars.

best street food in Bangok, Thailand, thai food, street vendors, street food in sukhumvit

Another recommendation of Chawadee’s is try the mango sticky rice. Now, this one I know a bit about! I love it and it’s quite exciting to see how it’s done here on the streets of Bangkok. I walk across the road to the stall which is selling it exclusively. You’d hope they do it well if it’s the only thing they make.

This time it costs me 60 baht (two dollars) for the dish but it is worth every bit. The fruit is so juicy and sweet and the rice complements it perfectly. A great way to finish the meal.

best street food in Bangok, Thailand, thai food, street vendors, street food in sukhumvit

best street food in Bangok, Thailand, thai food, street vendors, street food in sukhumvit

I have one final question for Chawadee – something that had been bothering me. I was really curious to know what all the street food vendors thought of the tourists who, although they could afford to eat in nice restaurants down the road, came to the dingy stalls with the locals.

“Oh, they are thrilled!” Chawadee tells me, reassuringly.

“A lot of Thais think that, because it’s Thai, other people just won’t ‘get it’. So they are pleasantly surprised when foreign tourists like and want to try something that Thais themselves love. I think Thais are just beginning to realize that foreign tourists love Thai street food… something I find incredibly amazing.”

Oh well, I think they’ll work it out soon enough…

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39 Comments
  • Jessica | Jan 21, 2013 at 12:22 pm

    Cool write up, and glad to know about Bangkok Glutton! Def going to check that out…
    Jessica recently posted..Tops and Flops of 1000 Days of Travel: Days 901-1000My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 12:10 am

      Yeah – it’s a great site. Definitely check it out for some food envy! :)

  • Vera | Jan 21, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    The street food thing looked so unusual to me when I first got here – the idea that one tiny cart can basically hold a whole ‘restaurant’, with the complete kitchen and all the little chairs and tables. And having all the rules and restrictions of my home country regarding commercial kitchen regulations in the back of my head I did wonder: “Is this ‘clean’? Is this ‘safe’?”, but it just smelled and looked too good:). In the past two months we have mainly dined on street food – no meal has ever tasted bad or caused any digestive trouble. Don’t worry – I would totally go into full detail if it were so:) So, anyway, street food is definitely the way to go, and since you see very much what you get and how it is prepared, it’s quite honest and open. One thing I haven’t found out yet is wether every street food cart/seller needs some kind of license or if you can just rock up with your goodies wrapped in banana leaves and sell them (mmm, sticky rice banana…). Hungry now. Cool post:)!
    Vera recently posted..2012 in review – the photo editionMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 12:20 am

      I’m so glad you have had no digestive issues. Not because I am overly concerned about your health… but because I completely believe you when you say you would share the details here! :)

  • Angela | Jan 21, 2013 at 3:23 pm

    I can’t believe I was so close to all this good food. My hostel was superclose to Sukhumvit 38 and I never knew about it. I’ll be back in Bangkok in a few weeks and will definitely go check it out!
    Angela recently posted..New Year’s eve Robinson Crusoe style at Koh Ta KievMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 12:21 am

      Let me know when you check it out and if you find any great dishes. I feel there are so many more things for me to try there!

  • Natalie | Jan 21, 2013 at 5:38 pm

    I am also a bit iffy of street food after I suffered a bout of food poisoning once. Slowly coming back into it now but i do like it says in the article. Follow the crowd!
    Natalie recently posted..The Man Who Tattooed Himself For TurkeyMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 12:26 am

      It can take a little while to get back to the street food if you get sick from it once. It’s happened to me before too. But once you start eating it again, you’ll forget very quickly about that one bad experience!

  • Lorenzo | Jan 22, 2013 at 2:41 pm

    “Just copy everyone else.” Foodie advice I live by
    Lorenzo recently posted..Belize Gets A New Logo! Yay or Nay?My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 12:39 am

      Ha ha… you can’t really go wrong that way, can you? :)

  • D.J. - The World of Deej | Jan 23, 2013 at 1:30 am

    Great story…I stick to the “look for the long lines” strategy. They usually have the good stuff..
    D.J. – The World of Deej recently posted..Disney’s Contemporary Resort – Check-In FloridaMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 12:43 am

      That’s a good idea too! If it’s worth queueing for, it’s got to be pretty tasty!

  • Kristy of Migration Expert | Jan 23, 2013 at 5:47 pm

    Is that a sticky rice with mango? It looks a good dessert for me too.

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 12:55 am

      It is indeed. The best dessert ever!!

  • A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer) | Jan 23, 2013 at 10:05 pm

    Is it bad that one of the reasons I want to go to Bangkok is to eat that much-famed mango sticky rice plate?
    A Montrealer Abroad (@amontrealer) recently posted..Canada Shared By CanadiansMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 1:11 am

      Not bad at all. One of the best reasons I’ve heard! :)

  • Linda @EcoTraveller | Jan 23, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Love, love Thai street food! Even though I’ve just had dinner am salivating just looking at the pictures. So nice to know the locals are thrilled tourists eat from the stalls. I couldn’t imagine it any other way!
    Linda @EcoTraveller recently posted..Elephants Exploited for Tourism: From Zoos to TreksMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 1:19 am

      It’s good, isn’t it. I was worried they might think we’re just joking around or being silly. I’m glad the locals realise it’s because we love the food so much!

  • Jennifer | Jan 24, 2013 at 2:39 am

    It seems that the same is true of street food and restaurants – if all the locals are there and it’s packed, follow suit. If no one is there, run, RUN, away!
    Jennifer recently posted..Seven Romantic Getaways for Valentine’s DayMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 1:22 am

      I always try to avoid places that are empty. But then I wonder if they’re actually quite good but everyone else is just using the same tactic. As soon as a few people sit down, the place would become packed!

  • apol | Jan 27, 2013 at 12:21 pm

    mango with sticky riceeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! huhuhuhu.
    apol recently posted..The 2D/3N El Nido ExperienceMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 6, 2013 at 1:33 am

      Yum yum yum!!

      • Apol of Wanderful Together | Jul 13, 2013 at 5:11 pm

        hehehe!! We have never gone to Sukhumvit yet. Might as well head there on our next visit. I love Thai street food, very cheap and yummy, no need for restaurants for us. We’re ok with pad thai, roti, mango rice for our meals. kkk. When we crossed the border from Cambodia, I was so thankful it’s already Thailand, no more expensive Cambodian food. kk.

        Will follow Bangkok Glutton, thanks thanks for introducing it!
        Apol of Wanderful Together recently posted..Escorted by Guards in Changi Airport Terminal 2, SingaporeMy Profile

  • Zubi Travel | Feb 1, 2013 at 7:10 am

    Well, seeing that there are so many local eating there I’m sure the food is really good.
    Zubi Travel recently posted..Caribbean DelightsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      It’s always a good sign, isn’t it?

  • Andrew | Feb 10, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    It looks really tasty. We had some really good luck with street vendors in Turkey so I think I would be ok with it in Thailand.
    The tip to look for refrigeration sounds good. I can imagine that in such a warm climate stuff would go bad pretty quickly without it.

    Do they have spicy chicken dishes as well? That is what I know from Thai restaurants in the West. I will definitely try whatever looks good, but that is the type of dish I’ll look for. The main downfall of pointing at another plate for ordering is if you are a picky eater. I don’t like fish or crab, so pointing could be dangerous.
    Andrew recently posted..Interesting Stuff on WallsMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 16, 2013 at 5:38 pm

      There’s always a good chance the street stalls will be able to do something with chicken. It’s one of the easiest meats. A lot of places will give you the chilli on the side so you can make it as spicy as you want. I went a bit overboard last night and burnt my mouth – be careful! :)

  • Peter | Feb 20, 2013 at 5:54 pm

    Great article! My favorite thing about street food is sitting down with the locals and eating great food all whilst listening to amazing stories.
    Peter recently posted..The Holy City of the Vatican {Photo Junket}My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 21, 2013 at 2:05 am

      If you can understand the language. I clearly need to brush up on my Thai to enjoy those kind of experiences! :)

  • wanmei | Apr 17, 2013 at 1:19 am

    Hi,

    May i know how to get there?
    Thanks.

    • Michael Turtle | Apr 24, 2013 at 2:30 pm

      Hi Wanmei, Sukhumvit Soi 38 is just off Thanon Sukhumvit. You can see the night food stalls from the Thong Lo BTS station. Hope you enjoy it!

  • Any Nice foods in Bangkok to recommend? - www.hardwarezone.com.sg | Sep 5, 2013 at 1:38 am

    […] Food on Sukhumvit Soi 38 – Bangkok.com Magazine Sukhumvit Soi 38. Some review : The best street food in Bangkok: Sukhumvit Soi 38 – Time Travel Turtle Many Street food which i miss… Regret not going … __________________ (DIABLO 3)(Retired) […]

  • Changer de vie | Oct 9, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Thanks so much for the advice.
    I’m going to Bangkok and Chiang Mai for a few months, i want to try street food but “safe” and good street food.
    I have an adress to go in Bangkok now !
    If you have one in Chiang Mai, let me know please :)
    Changer de vie recently posted..Vivre à San Francisco : avantages, inconvénients et note/10 !My Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Oct 29, 2013 at 12:16 am

      I don’t know of the best place in Chiang Mai, I’m sorry. But I think you’ll get a sense of what is safe and what isn’t quite quickly. Try the Bangkok one first and then you’ll be able to look for similar things in the rest of the country. Enjoy!

  • Mint from BKK | Feb 13, 2014 at 1:45 am

    Love the way you present this story!

    I’m been to that area for so many times, but yet still very impress with all of your pictures and comments ;)

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 17, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      Thanks so much. Do you agree that it’s one of the best places to get street food in Bangkok or do you have any other suggestions?

  • Drew | The Hungry Partier | Feb 13, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    This post is awesome! I am heading to Bangkok in 2 days, so I will most definitely be eating some of these delicious local dishes!

    Cheers and Happy Travels!

    Drew
    Drew | The Hungry Partier recently posted..6 Sri Lankan Foods to TryMy Profile

    • Michael Turtle | Feb 17, 2014 at 12:04 pm

      Enjoy!! I miss the street food in Thailand. Can’t wait to go back sometime and just eat all day!! :)

  • My First Impressions Of Bangkok - Banker in the Sun | Aug 5, 2014 at 11:37 am

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