Soi 38 or Sukhumvit 38 beside BTS Thonglor in Bangkok is a tiny piece of street food stall heaven in a city heaving with fantastic street food dining options. This is our guide to what to eat where and other footpath feasting tips.
Footpath Feasting: Street Food on Sukhumvit 38 AKA Soi 38, Thonglor, Bangkok
At first sight from the Skytrain station above, Soi 38’s street food scene, comprised of little more than 20 or so stalls clustered around the Sukhumvit Road end of the street, appears small and low-key. Especially when compared to the more crowded and chaotic street food areas dotted around Bangkok, such as Yaowarat Road in Chinatown. And it is. But this is part of its charm. These are some of the other reasons we still keep returning to Soi 38 when we’re in town.
You can always snag a table – and stay put
It’s rare that you won’t find a table in front of a stall you like, and unlike other popular eat streets in the city, at Soi 38 you can linger at the same table for your entire feasting session, no matter how many different stalls you plan to graze from. Here the stallholders are fine with you hogging one of their tables, as long as you order at least one dish and drinks from them.
Vendors are laidback and friendly
You can order from as many vendors as you like, let them know where you’re sitting, and they’ll bring your plates to you when the food is ready. You pay on delivery. We have one stall we like on the ground floor of a shop-house where several generations of a friendly family hang out for the night, watching TV, prepping ingredients and playing with the baby, in between taking orders. We’ll order one dish here, and then continue to buy big bottles of cold Singha beer while we delight in a banquet of dishes accumulated from various other stalls.
It’s always busy with locals
The laidback attitude doesn’t mean Soi 38’s street food isn’t good or its stalls aren’t popular. On the contrary, from the time the first woks are fired up around 6pm until the last stall-holder hoses down their footpath in the wee hours of the morning, there’s a constant stream of customers passing through to dine here. Regulars pull up on motorbikes or in cars and double-park while they order take-away. Others, who have phoned ahead, don’t leave their vehicle, and somehow, with precision timing, the order is being packaged up as they arrive. And they’re affluent customers too – Thai HiSo in expensive clothes and fancy cars, which is a good sign. Chef Ian Kittichai, who we interviewed for our Eating and Drinking Guide to Bangkok, is a Soi 38 fan.
The food is simple, tasty and safe
Aside from Pad Thai Fire Look (first stall on the right at the street’s entrance), where from the old gentleman, widely regarded as one of the best Pad Thai cooks in Bangkok, tosses wok-fried noodles non-stop throughout the night, the food on Soi 38 is not going to win any awards. In fact, it’s a favourite punching bag for Western expat foodies and writers because dissing Soi 38 is a way for them to say that they’re in the know of where ‘the’ best street food dishes are – even though some of them wrote about it in the first place.
Regardless, it’s all good, it’s all tasty, and – apart from our pork satay stick bloke, who occasionally douses the grilling sticks in too much water – it’s reliable. Soi 38 also has a reputation as being one of the most hygienic street food areas in Bangkok. We have seen rats here (but where aren’t there rats in Bangkok?), however, the stall-holders keep their plates and cutlery spotlessly clean, and we’ve eaten here dozens of times and never been sick.
What do we eat?
We have an eating ritual when we hit Soi 38, because a visit here is usually part of a back-up plan and a comfort food stop. It’s the spot we head when we’ve had enough of fine dining restaurants and street food experiments, or when we’ve been working late, there’s nothing in the fridge, and we know everything else is closed. So when we come here we admit we’re not very adventurous and happily order the same dishes week after week: pork satay sticks turned over a smoky open grill, delicious pad Thai, maybe a tasty curry and/or fresh green vegetables if we’re famished, and always – although we find it hard to fit it in and have to take it home – the freshest, sweetest mango and sticky rice.
What does our feast cost us?
pork satay sticks, 10 sticks/30 baht
pad Thai with seafood, 80 baht
fried red curry with salted pork, 80 baht
morning glory, 40 baht
mango and sticky rice, 60 baht
2 x big bottles of Singha beer, 160 baht or 80 baht each
Cost for two: 450 baht or $14/£9/€10
Sukhumvit Soi 38
Daily 6pm until the wee hours
Update 31 July 2016: Soi 38 is no longer a street food destination. Vendors have been forced to move elsewhere to make way for a swanky development. But thanks to all the foreign Thai restaurants and holiday rental review sites that have stolen my feature image.