Thai street food for many years had a bad reputation and was strictly “taboo” for most tourists to the Kingdom of Thailand, it was generally viewed as somewhat unhygienic, and rumours abounded that consumption of it could lead to serious stomach complaints (if you know what I mean!!).
It was therefore very much left to the early backpackers to be the "guinea-pigs", as they tended to travel on a shoestring, and were not too fussed where their next meal was coming from.
But amazingly, the backpackers survived, and slowly but surely Thai street food become established & fully accepted by tourists from all over the world, and today is recognised by many (myself included), as being probably the finest exponent of "real" Thai Culinary cuisine available.
Given the choice of eating in a swanky air-conditioned "restaurant" or a roadside traditional Thai "eatery", personally I would choose the eatery EVERYTIME.
Thai eating habits also lend themselves perfectly to street meals,as typically a Thai person will normally eat many smaller meals per day rather than the Western preference of just three larger meals at set times.These smaller meals added to the Thai tradition of meeting outside the house, means that Thai street food is the ideal way for most Thai people to socialise & eat at the same time. I remember reading an article a few years ago that stated that "the average Thai person eats a meal outside of the home seventeen times PER WEEK", now I would never have believed that had I not actually lived here and seen it for myself!.
Generally, food in Thailand is so cheap, that it is often cheaper to eat out than to prepare & cook at home. There is a wide ranging "army" of Thai street food sellers, dedicated to satisfying the culinary needs of the Thai population, the most "established" of these will typically own/rent a small "unit", that looks somewhat like a garage, has as many tables and chairs as they can cram into it and onto the pavement directly in front of it. They generally tends to specialise in either noodle dishes,rice dishes or chicken dishes.
The next group are the street side eateries, who have their "turf" on the pavements clearly marked by the layout of their tables & chairs, so as you walk along it is actually quite difficult to work out where one ends & another begins !!.
They will typically have their mobile cooking stall just a few feet away, which is packed away each night & set out again the following morning, with just the main cooking utensils and food being ferried back & forth in the back of the family pick-up. These are very much "mom & dad" businesses with everyone including the kids involved in all the various aspects of the job, they work very long hours for just a meagre living. Then you have the "take-away" mobile stall, these typically are moved into position each day after the shops behind them close, and are lined up side by side with other vendors, all selling different dishes that they each specialise in, all the preparation work is carried out just behind the cooking stall, and its quite a production line.
Finally you have "mobile" Thai street food seller, they typically carry 1x BBQ cooker at one end of a long bamboo pole, and counterbalanced the other end by a tray of raw ingredients ready to stop & cook you a dish there & then !!, they tend to be the cheapest, but not always the best. Pretty much irrespective of where you eat between these different styles of selling, the prices are all very similar, tyoically you will pay 25thb-30thb per dish, which is usually enough for a reasonable meal.
You will find that wherever there is ANY gathering of people in Thailand, whether it be a bustling market, a town or city centre, a busy roadside or even a temple you will always find Thai street food sellers cooking delicious dishes in front of your very eyes !!. Most of the standard dishes served by the Thai street food sellers are ones that can be prepared easily & cooked relatively quickly, and the one thing that links them altogether is the endless attack on your senses by the aromas, color, sounds and flavors that hit you as you just wander along - food in Thailand is a feast for ALL of the senses.
As a useful guide for you we have prepared a "Top Ten" list of Thai street food dishes, but they are not in any order of popularity:
* Som Tam - a spicy salad with shredded papaya
* Khao Mun Gai Tom - steamed chicken served on rice cooked in chicken broth
* Rat Naa - fried flat noodles and pork in a thick gravy
* Ba Mee Nam - yellow egg noodle soup with wonton
* Pad Thai - fried noodles with dried shrimp and tofu
* Johk - a thick rice soup excellent for breakfast
* Pad See Iew - pan-fried noodles with pork & green vegetables
* Khao Pad - fried rice
* Pad Krapow Moo - pork fried with basil served on rice
* Khao Moo Daeng - red pork with rice
One final tip for you, when you are starting to feel a little peckish, as you wander along the line of street vendors or are out either on the motorbike or in the car, always look out for the vendors / eateries that have several Thai customers either eating or awaiting take-away food orders, this will ensure that the food is both fresh AND beautifully cooked. Thai people have a sixth-sense when it comes to finding the best places to enjoy delicious Thai street food, and by joining them you are assured of getting great quality food, at unbelievably cheap prices.
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