Thais love their street food and seem to snack all day and all night. As a result, the streets of their capital, Bangkok, are flush with food stalls and street-side restaurants to suit just about any taste. If you are wary of “Thai spicy”, just let the person know to go easy on the chili peppers when preparing your dish.
Condiment racks often sag with all manner of sauces and toppings to hop up, spice or otherwise customize your dish. Even a basic stall will likely offer dried shrimp, peanuts, hot pepper flakes, peppers in vinegar, sugar, fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, and sweet and sour sauce.
Bangkok cuisine can be outstanding and almost criminally cheap. Here’s just a sample of what you might find, even if you don’t look very hard. The places listed here are in the Banglamphu area, but you can find similar stalls and dishes all over Bangkok.
1) Yogurt-fruit-muesli. Start your day with a healthy breakfast. Though western breakfasts with eggs and toast are available everywhere, also try the ubiquitous Southeast Asian blend of yogurt, fruit, and muesli. In Southeast Asia, fresh fruit, in any form, is a completely different experience than what you are likely used to.
Location: Available in any of the guesthouses in Banglamphu and along Soi Rambutri. A new row of muesli takeaway stands just appeared on Soi Rambutri at the corner of Soi Chana Songkram.
Cost: 50-60 baht ($1.65) for a bowl of yogurt, muesli and fresh fruit
2) Dim sum, coffee, and soup. For a savory breakfast a bit off the beaten tourist path, try the dim sum and soup place on Phra Artit Road. Point your way to a few trays of dim sum (shrimp, pork, mushroom) arranged in a protective multi-level metal steamer and guarded by a little old woman. Charge yourself with an iced coffee made by the man of the house. If you’re still hungry, try the beef soup – served all day long by a friendly soup lady. They’ll even pack it all to go, so you can take it with you on the train or bus.
Location: near 100 Phra Artit Road, next to Thara Guest House
Cost: iced coffee, 15 baht ($0.45), dim sum plates of 3-4, 20 baht ($0.60), soup 40 baht ($1.20)
3) Freshly squeezed orange juice. There’s nothing like freshly squeezed orange juice made from those tiny green oranges. Sweet, refreshing and healthy. Try and taste around; beware some do add sugar and salt, even though their signs say otherwise.
Location: anywhere in Banglamphu
Cost: 25 baht ($0.75) for a large, roughly one-third liter
4) Panang fish curry. Panang fish curry filet with strands of kaffir lime leaf, served over rice. Its mild heat is balanced nicely by the tang of the kaffir lime leaf, the key to Thai cooking. This particular stall also offers about 15 different curries.
Location: Soi Rambutri, past the corner with Chakrapong road in the direction of Tanao Road
Cost: 30 baht ($0.90)
5) Pad Thai – Choice of 3-4 types of noodles, with or without an egg. Eggs, noodles, cabbage, spring onions and bean sprouts are all stirred briskly with a straight-edged metal spoon. Top it off with dozens of condiments, including peanuts, dried shrimp, peppers and lime.
Location: Just about anywhere. One row (of three or four different stands) in particular stands out on Soi Rambutri in front of the Viengtai Hotel. We refer to this area as “Pad Thai Alley”.
Cost: 20 baht ($0.60)
6) Shrimp and asparagus stir fry. Thin asparagus sprigs, shrimp and crushed garlic stir-fried and still crisp, served with steamed rice. Perhaps the best value made-to-order meal we found. The woman who makes it devotes half the preparation time to spooning out various condiments – fish sauce, soy sauce, salt, sugar, and spices – into her wok.
Location: Soi Rambutri across from the Viengtai Hotel and Pad Thai alley.
Cost: 25 baht ($0.70)
7) Spring rolls, summer rolls, and gyoza. In the span of 30 meters, you can satisfy all manner of fried spring and fresh (a.k.a., summer) roll cravings. One stall offers fried Japanese-style gyoza pot stickers, fried cabbage and vegetable-stuffed spring rolls and shrimp-stuffed (tail on) shrimp rolls. A newly opened stand offers vegetable and herb-stuffed fresh rice rolls, served with soy, vinegar and pepper sauce.
Location: Chakraporn Road, just around the corner from Soi Rambutri, away from Khao San Road
Cost: a plate of 3-4 scissor-sliced and condiment-topped rolls runs about 20 baht ($0.60)
8 ) Vegetable fried rice. Sounds boring, but it doesn’t have to be if it’s cooked fresh for you. Cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, broccoli, onions, garlic, and egg, all find room along with a simple sauce on top of a plate of rice.
Location: At the cluster of stands on Soi Rambutri at the corner of Soi Chana Songkram.
Cost: 25 baht ($0.75)
9) Red Curry Chicken. No shortage of this dish anywhere. Take-a-Sit’s version stands out, particularly since it’s inexpensive and served in a pleasant, clean, air-conditioned environment. Ask for spicy or strong – they’ll oblige. The panang curry is also quite good here.
Location: Take-a-Sit (love the name) next to Thara Guest House at 100 Phra Artit Road.
Cost: 65 baht ($2.00) lunch special gets you a substantial bowl of curry, rice, and a pineapple or watermelon shake
10) Green curry – vegetable or chicken. It ought to be against the law to get this much fresh food (meat and vegetable) in one dish for so little money. Unlike some of the street curries that sit and whose vegetables (especially the Asian eggplant!) get soft, this one is dangerously fresh and made to order.
Location: Two women run a stand with a long menu next to the muesli takeaway stands and pad Thai stand at the corner of Soi Rambutri and Soi Chana Songkram.
Cost: 30 baht ($0.85), includes rice and is enough to feed two people
11) Roti. No visit to Thailand is complete without a serving of roti, the Malaysian style crepe-like pancake. Although the gooey, sweet variety is offered on every street corner in Banglamphu, pop into Roti Mataba for something a bit more authentic. There you’ll find a two-woman team – one flipping and rolling the balls of roti dough and the other cooking and stuffing it with fillings. For breakfast, order the banana-filled – sweet and soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, topped with condensed milk. In the evening, choose a savory variety served with your choice of Muslim and Indian curries.
Location: Roti Mataba, across from the fortress at the turn on Phra Artit Road.
Cost: Two coffees and two sweet rotis, 90 baht ($2.60); evening dishes run a bit more.
12) Bibimbap. We’re always fascinated by experiences that allow us to try non-native ethnic foods. Korean food in Bangkok fits that bill perfectly. Check out the bibimbap, a mash of greens, vegetables, cooked egg, meat, and a spicy red sauce served with a collection of kimchi (pickled vegetables) and cucumber soup. One serving may possibly be enough for two to share. With free wifi (ask the owner for the password), you can even check your email between bites.
Location: Dong Dae Moon Restaurant on Soi Rambutri.
Cost: 90 baht ($2.60)
13) Grilled red snapper and fried greens. Grilled red snapper, fried kale (a.k.a. rare greens), and fried morning glory. Fresh fish is fortunately available everywhere on the streets of Bangkok. And competition is stiff, so prices are appallingly low. Hot grills in front of the restaurant turn out buttery, light, and substantial snapper grilled enough, but not too dry. Once you try one of these, you’ll find it difficult to ever order an imported red snapper again. Side it with water-based greens for something light, healthy and unique to the Southeast Asian table.
Location: Rows of red snapper on ice are displayed in front of many restaurants along Soi Rambutri. Our favorite place for quality and price a few doors down from the Korean restaurant.
Cost: 100 baht ($3.00) for a whole, grilled red snapper
14) Fruit Shakes. The shake-makers of Banglamphu don’t claim to save your life with the health benefits of their shakes, they just make them taste good (which often means some condensed milk is included). Get your bearings on Southeast Asian fruit shakes at the stand next to the 7-Eleven on Soi Rambutri, which offers more than 20 different varieties, including the standard mango, pineapple, watermelon, as well as the more exotic dragon fruit, guava, passion fruit, and Chinese pear.
Location: Soi Rambutri, next to the 7-Eleven. Also try the stand selling books and mango shakes near the new New Siam III guest house. Catch the woman in the morning, when you and your shake have her focus. Shakes are heavy on the mango, light on the sugar, and the smoothest around. In the evening, you’ll spend hours just trying to tear her attention from her mobile. If you succeed, you’ll get half the mango you deserve in a watery broth.
Cost: 25-30 baht ($0.80)
15) Mango and sticky rice. The king of Southeast Asian desserts. A full ripe mango is paired with glutinous sticky rice and topped with sweetened coconut milk. This dish defied our sense of dietary control – we ordered it dozens of times. When choosing a stand, make sure the sliced mango is ripe and bright yellow/orange. If you get an off-ripe mango, the taste can be off-putting and the experience just isn’t the same.
Location: anywhere along Soi Rambutri. The stand with the old dog and orange “mango and sticky rice” sign is a good bet.
Cost: 20 baht ($0.60)