Bangkok Street Food Dishes To Try – Do As The Locals Do, Graze All Day
Bangkok street food dishes you must try when you’re on the move in the Thai capital include rice porridges, soups, noodles, and fried snacks, such as the chefs’ favourite, oyster omelette. You could eat on the streets from breakfast through to dessert, if you do as the locals do and graze all day.
When we asked Chef Ton of Le Du to name three must-try Bangkok street food dishes for his local guide to eating and drinking in Bangkok, he named pad ka pao, a Southern yellow curry, typically found on Phuket and other parts of the south, and som tam, originally from Thailand’s northeastern Isaan region. While Thailand’s cuisine is very regional, these days you can find anything almost anywhere, especially in Bangkok.
As a few readers asked us on social media about the dishes that Chef Ton named, we thought it was time to provide a guide (probably long overdue) on the best Bangkok street food dishes that we think you should try. This is by no means an exhaustive list. Rather, these are the dishes you’re most likely to see as you explore Bangkok, on mobile carts, street food stalls, in markets, and at the kind of simple eateries that are open to the street that Thais eat at throughout the day.
Bangkok Street Food Dishes To Try – Do As The Locals Do and Graze All Day
Bangkok locals love to eat – and eat on the street. Having lived in Bangkok, and still regular visitors since living in Siem Reap, we can verify that it’s true that as soon as Bangkokians finish the last mouthful of a dish, they’re already thinking about the next meal.
It’s estimated that there are nearly 500,000 street food stalls in the city, satisfying the locals’ love of eating on the streets from dawn to well past midnight – from breakfast through daytime snacks and lunch to dinner, dessert and perhaps a post-drinking session plate of noodles.
Here are our picks of the Bangkok street food dishes you have to try when you’re in the Thai capital:
Bangkok Street Food Dishes You Have To Try
Porridges and Soups
Khao Tom – Rice Soup
This lovely Thai rice soup is distinguished by being lighter in texture and flavour than the ubiquitous rice porridge, jok, below. That means that it’s ideal for adding condiments to your heart’s content. The base is usually a stock made from pork (moo) or chicken (gai), with a little pork or chicken through it that’s perhaps been seasoned with fish sauce. However, khao tom pla (fish) is also very popular.
Jok – Rice Porridge
In Thailand, jok (also written as ‘joke’) is Chinese-style rice porridge, called congee in China. Heavier than khao tom, it’s a great hangover cure or a comfort dish if you’re feeling a little ill. Garlic, ginger and fish sauce generally flavour the stock, and small pork meatballs, liver, chicken, or crab might be added. It’s nearly always topped with a soft egg. Some visitors find it bland – but again that’s what all the condiments are for, from fresh slices of spring onions to fried shallots.
Kuay Teow Sen Lek – Boat Noodles
One of the most popular Bangkok street food dishes, kuay teow sen lek, more commonly known as ‘boat noodles’, originated on Bangkok’s waterways, where noodle vendors would move through the canals selling this fragrant rice noodle soup. The soup comes with pork meatballs and either some pork or beef slices, but the defining ingredient is pig’s blood, ladled into the bowl before the soup, and cooking as the hot broth hits it.
Kra Por Pla – Thai-Style Fish Maw Soup
This luxurious fish maw soup is a very popular Chinese soup that’s mainly eaten at breakfast in Chinatown. It’s also in demand during Chinese New Year. It’s made from fish organs that resemble pork rinds that are dried and then placed in a chicken broth, swelling up as they soak in the stock. Crabmeat is the other key ingredient, along with mushrooms and bean sprouts.
All Day Dishes
Hoy Tod – Oyster Omelette
One of the most delicious Bangkok street food dishes, oyster omelettes are a firm favourite of Bangkok foodies, including chefs such as David Thompson. You can order it soft (cau mai grob) or crispy (cau grob grob), but whatever you do don’t order pad Thai instead. Usually the vendors specializing in these do both dishes. Served with spring onions and sweet chilli sauce, it’s a dish to savour. Also look out for mussel omelettes, which are equally delicious.
Pad Ka Pao – Basil Stir-Fry
Also written as pad kra pao and pad gaprao in English, you’ll see this spicy basil stir-fry, most typically made with chicken, but also pork, beef or seafood, sold at street food stalls and rustic eateries all over the city. Thanks to the fragrant basil you’ll probably smell it first. Served with rice and sometimes a fried egg on it, it’s quick to cook, comforting to eat, and highly addictive. Chef Ton claims to eat it five times a week while a Bangkok food guide once told us that it’s the dish office workers order when they can’t decide what else to have for lunch.
Som Tam – Green Papaya Salad
You’ll see som tam being pounded with a mortar and pestle at food carts on footpaths all over Bangkok. Originally from the Isaan area of northeastern Thailand, som tam can now be found all over the country. Crunchy, spicy-hot, sour, salty and sweet, it’s Southeast Asia on a plate, and variations of the salad are found all over the region, including Cambodia and Laos. While there are endless varieties of som tam, the essential ingredients are shredded green papaya salad, long beans, tomatoes, dried shrimps, and peanuts in a dressing of chilli, garlic, lime juice, and fish sauce. Som tam can be eaten on its own, but it’s typically served with sticky rice and at markets in Isaan, gai yang (grilled chicken) will be close by.
Kanom Gui Chai – Chinese Chive Cakes
Another Bangkok street food snack found all over the region as they originated in China, kanom gui chai or Chinese chive cakes, are a fantastic filling snack if you’ve been running around the city and haven’t eaten much. Made from a combination of tapioca, rice and sticky rice flours, they’re filled with chives, steamed and then shallow fried. They’re doused in soy and chilli sauce, or its offered as a dipping sauce – and it’s essential. They’re a tad bland without it.
Kanom Krok – Coconut Cakes
Kanom krok, small fried cakes (kanom means cake) made from coconut cream and jasmine rice, are found all over Southeast Asia. Crispy brown on the outside they have creamy soft centres that are sprinkled with spring onions and made corn kernels and perhaps chilli. They might be served joined together in a sphere, or in halves. You’ll see them at Bangkok street food stalls throughout the day and Thais will generally buy half a dozen or more.
Kanom Jeeb – Steamed Thai Dumplings
These delicious steamed dumplings are the Thai rendition of Chinese siu mai. Typically stuffed with pork and seafood, they are embellished with garlic oil and served with a soy-based dipping sauce. Sold from a mobile food cart, vendors tend to specialise only in this snack, and finish when they sell out. Some will offer these alongside the fluffy white steamed buns called salapao in Thai (or siopao, baozi, bao, and pau in Chinese dialects). The best street food vendors, which have reached legendary status, are in Chinatown. There are two excellent vendors on Soi Yaowaphanit, one who is only there in the mornings. Our favourites are sold from midday through the afternoon from a push cart in front of Wat Mongkonsamakom (also known as Wat Yuan) by an elderly man whose family has been making them for generations.
Popia Tort – Fried Spring Rolls
Originally from China and perhaps Southeast Asia’s best-known snack, crunchy wok-fried spring rolls are found at street food stalls, in markets and casual eateries. Typically stuffed with minced pork on the street, the tastiest also include prawns. On the street they’ll probably cut the into a few pieces to make them easier to eat on the run.
Moo Ping – Pork Skewers
Thanks to the marinade of palm sugar, soy sauce, fish sauce, coriander and garlic, these sticky pork skewers, grilled over charcoal with a little coconut milk, glisten enticingly. They tend to be quite small, so Thais will tend to buy a few to snack on when they’re on the move. Sit down at a Bangkok street food stall and order a portion and you’ll probably receive a dozen.
Satay Gai / Moo Satay – Chicken / Pork Satay Sticks
Generally marinated in a paste of lemongrass, galangal, turmeric, coriander, and cumin, and brushed with coconut milk before grilling over charcoal, these skewers are served with a peanut sauce and cucumber shallot relish. The smokiness of the meat and the rich sauce make this a firm favourite with locals and tourists alike. While you’ll find charcoal-grilled chicken or pork skewers any time of day, they’re best eaten at night with a few other dishes and some cold beer.
Khao Pad – Thai-Style Fried Rice
Khao Pad – ‘khao’ means rice and ‘pad’ means stir-fried – the a Thai-style fried rice, typically ordered by workers in Bangkok looking for a quick, filling bite for lunch. Being Bangkok, its flavour is more complex than you’d think, with smoky aromas permeating the dish from the tossing of the rice over fire. It’s usually served with shrimp (goong) or chicken (gai). Add some lime juice, along with fish sauce spiked with chilli, and you’ll understand why it’s so popular.
Khao Man Gai – Thai-style Hainanese Chicken and Rice
This deceptively modest dish of rice, boiled chicken and chicken broth is Thailand’s version of the Chinese Hainanese chicken and rice dish. What elevates it to iconic street food status is the texture of the chicken, the rich rice (cooked in chicken stock), and the accompanying chilli-spiked soy dipping sauce.
Khao Na Ped / Khao Na Moo – Roast Duck / Pork on Rice
One of the most appetising sights in Bangkok, particularly in Chinatown at night, are the mobile vendors with glass cases enclosing racks that hang with glistening duck (ped) and pork (moo) stands. Your choice of roast duck or pork is chopped and placed on a modest serve of rice, sometimes with a delicious gravy and some pickled ginger on the side, at other times with soy sauce. Like khao man gai, it’s simple yet delicious and a firm favourite when you’re grazing street food fare.
Kanom Jeen – Fermented Rice Noodles
Generally sold at market stalls and eaten for breakfast and lunch, these fresh fermented rice noodles are typically served with nahm ya, a spicy fish sauce with a lemongrass, ginger and garlic base, although these days you might see an array of coconut-based curries on offer. A basket or tray of fragrant herbs and fresh, pickled and/or blanched vegetables will be close by. At a stall with tables and seats you’ll get to choose your own garnishes, while at a roadside stall the vendor will pop them on top.
Rad Na – Rice Noodles with Gravy
These stir-fried, wide rice-flour noodles served in a gravy-like sauce are a real treat in Bangkok. Served with your choice of chicken, pork, beef, or seafood (opt for the large plump shrimps, when you can), the skill of the cook on the wok determines how tasty the dish is. Using super high heat, a good rad na cook manages to impart the metallic flavour of the wok and the charcoal smoke from the fire. They’re very moreish when done well. You’ll also see them spelt ‘lad na’ and ‘raat nar’.
Pad Kee Mao – Drunken Noodles
Commonly known to Westerners as ‘drunken noodles’ these super-wide rice noodles are wok-fired over high heat with your choice of protein. We recommend you opt for seafood. An egg is added before being finished with holy basil. With a smoky, almost burnt flavour, the noodles are perfect if you’ve been over-indulging in the local Thai whiskey.
Pad Thai – Stir Fried Rice Noodles
The best-known abroad of Bangkok street food dishes, Pad Thai is certainly a long way from being Thailand’s best dish. But when made with care – rather than churned out for tourists – it’s a satisfying mix of rice noodles, tamarind and shrimp. It’s sometimes presented with a thin egg omelette folded around the noodles. Never buy the dish already made – always get it made to order from a stand with a charcoal-fired wok. And never buy it on Khao San Road, whatever you do.
Kanom Beuang – Sweet Thai ‘Tacos’/‘Crepes’
Of all the sweet Bangkok street food dishes this is one of the most recognisable, sold on footpath stands on almost every block and adored by Bangkok teens. These sweet and savoury Thai ‘tacos’ or ‘crepes’ are usually made from rice flour, mung bean flour and egg yolk (which gives them their yellow look). They have a layer of coconut cream smothered on them as they cook, followed by anything from egg yolk to spring onions and cilantro before being folded.
Khao Niew Mamuang – Sticky Rice with Mango
If there’s one dessert that you must try on the streets of Bangkok, it’s mango and sticky rice. There are lots of really sweet Thai desserts (generally involving tapioca, jellies and shaved ice), but as this dish uses local mangoes that aren’t really seen much outside of Asia, it’s a must-try. A simple dish, the sliced fresh mango is served with sticky rice infused with coconut milk, a little coconut sauce on the side, and a smattering of nutty flattened rice sprinkled on top. It’s a sublime way to finish a street food feast.
A fan of street food? Click through to browse our Footpath Feasting series.
If you’ve visited or live in the Thai capital, what Bangkok street food dishes do you think are a must try for first-timers?