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Question about Bangkok street food

How many Chow-hounders have either indulged in or would be willing to eat Thai food, and how many others would be skeptical due to cleanliness or other issues?

For those who have tried Thai street food, what have you had and what are your impressions?

For those who haven't or wouldn't, why would you?

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  1. The street food in Bangkok was tasty and clean. If you're worried, simply select vendors that are cooking food to order. There may be a language barrier, but as long as you can settle on a price ahead of time (preferably via a local who does speak English), you'll get what you want by some pointing and a friendly smile. I had two great meals in alleyways and a third, which was only okay, on the street outside of my budget hotel. The key is to watch where the locals head. Eyeball what they're eating, and try to watch as they pay, to get an idea of the price. Expect to be overcharged, otherwise.

    1. Thai street food cant be beat. I've never had a problem with it, and I''ve eaten everything from fruit smoothies to roasted roaches and mealworms. Most of my other western friends have over indulged on pad thai from the street, and it has always been good.

      1. thai street food is DA BOMB.

        in bkk, there are a few good stalls scattered on sukhumvit sois 8 and 38. i've never had an issue with overcharging...
        soi 8 has a lady who makes braised pork knuckle on rice - if i had to die tomorrow, that would be one of the last things i'd want to eat.

        if you're still not keen, there are some great food courts in malls with similar food, e.g. MBK and Emporium (both have separate international and local food courts - go local). it'll cost you about 20baht more (which is nothing) - buy coupons at the counter to pay with at the stalls (you can refund unused coupons).

        the only precaution would be for ice

        by the way, i think this post needs to be moved to the greater asia board.

        1 Reply
        1. re: e_ting

          This is an awesome suggestion. As strange as it seems to someone from the West, the food courts are great places to get decent local eats in many parts of Asia. I've loved the department store food courts in other Asian countries, but I feel the ones in Bangkok are really a notch above. It's clean, it's air conditioned, and a lot of them have pictures or displays of what they're serving so you can just point.

        2. Bangkok is one of the few cities where there really isn't much point in splashing out on expensive indigenous food. The stuff you get off the street stalls is often just as good. The trick seems to be to look for a stall that has plenty of locals eating at it. Either point at what you like the look of or if you see someone eating something that looks good, try asking them what it is - Thai people are friendly and helpful by nature and will usually do what they can to help you out.

          That was how I found my way to eating a delicious dish from a stall in Soi 5 Sukhumvit a few weeks ago. Called (I think) tom chiu, it was pork balls with a few greens in an incredibly deep, satisfying pork stock that must have been days in the making. It's not at all spicy (although I have no problem with spicy myself) - the Thai lady who introduced me to it said that the Thais don't put chillies in this one.

          1. I've eaten street food all over Thailand and never gotten sick. I wouldn't eat ice, and I would be careful of fruit that you don't see being peeled, aside from that however, eat everything.

            1. Bangkok street food rocks! Why pay tourist restaurant prices when the real deal is in the street stalls. Make sure you have a banana pancake....oooooo

              1. Check out my previous post here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/548579

                I got some great advice about Bangkok street food there. I ended up eating nearly every meal in Bangkok on the street, and the only time I felt ill was the one meal I ate in my hotel!

                1. Street food in Bangkok is safe and good. I've eaten it ALL and never had a problem. I worry more about upscale hotel restaurant food in Thailand - but not much more.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    This is one of the scarier places I visit. It's the best kaiyang ever!

                    1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

                      That is EXACTLY the type of place I love. Lucky you. Happy New Year!

                      1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

                        The food looks excellent. That type of food cart can be found all over Bangkok and in many other cities in Thailand. I'm flying on the 4th of January and will be having breakfast in Bangkok on the 6th. Maybe a way-after-midnight snack first. I'll be staying first at my sister-in-laws place on Sukhumwit Soi LaSalle almost to Samut Prakan. The itinerary this year includes Bangkok, Pattaya, Phibun Mangsahan (rural village outside of the city, Ubon Ratchathani Province), Loei (rural ampur), Ko Lanta (Krabi) and maybe a side trip to Burma or Cambodia. I also may be going to a Thai wedding in Phrae. There is always interesting food at a wedding. We stayed up all night at the last one I was to in Nakhon Thai (Phitsanulok). The food was partially prepared in the wee hours of the morning and finished for wedding at various times during the day.

                    2. Two reasons one might want to eat in a real restaurant in BKK:

                      khao tang na tang

                      krathong thong

                      I've never seen either on the street.

                      1. Totally go for it - I have never had any reservations and I give Thai street food three thumbs up! But if you are to indulge in street food in Thailand or anywhere else for the matter, just make sure you've had your hepatitis shots.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: ywwan

                          Had those shots, but not sure I needed them. Hepatitis is often found on unsterilized utensils. If you eat with your hands and clean your hands properly, you probably won't get it, but make sure the cooked food is hot. I did get a mild case of typhoid from a restaurant in Nakhom Phanom on my first trip to Thailand in 1988 before I knew much about street food. I got treated at a hospital clinic in Bangkok after I flew out of Issan due to the dysentery.

                          1. re: jnsx

                            Not entirely correct.
                            ---begin quote---
                            Hepatitis A (HAV), Hepatitis E (HEV) and possibly Hepatitis F (HFV)
                            Are transmitted by enteric, that is digestive or by fecal routes. ***The infected person passes the virus to another person who ingests a small amount of infected material. ***Poor hygiene and poor sanitary conditions in some countries lead to high rates of infection.
                            ---end quote---

                            An acquaintance picked up an enteric route virus through shwarma--no utensils involved whatsoever, just a vendor with dirty hands.

                            FWIW, I have no problem with street food, as long as it's comparatively clean.

                            1. re: prasantrin

                              I see you got your unattributed quote from about.com. My sources were the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health among others. Maybe I should have used sometimes instead of often, but both warn of unsterilized utensils.

                              Sterilization of utensils is hard to do for street vendors. The ones used in cooking are often in contact with hot water, hot oil, hot food and heat given off by coals or gas flames. The ones used in eating the food are more suspect as the washing is usually done with water and most of the time soap, but not hot water. You are right in that natures call during the business time can lead to uncleanliness. A friend told me of a cart vendor disappearing into the jungle for a few minutes, and then reappearing and continuing to serve food without washing his hands.

                              The interesting thing is, even in regular restaurants, clean personal utensils and serving dishes are not assured. In the US, great care is taken due to strict laws. The typical large restaurant dishwasher is a large stainless steel affair that heats water to boiling or there about during the cleaning cycle. It may not get things spotless, and once in a while small food particles get through, but everything has been heated to a very high temperature. In third world countries, such precautions may not be taken. Utensils can be hand washed, and then rinsed in water that is too cool to kill all pathogens.

                              I prefer chopsticks made of plastic to ones made wood in restaurants that don't use disposable ones. Lacquered wood is OK. Actually I don't like disposable ones either as they don't slide across my tongue and lips smoothly. In all cases they should be cleaned with hot soapy water. Chopsticks with smooth surfaces have less places for pathogens to hide.

                              I see shawarma, something I knew nothing about before I looked it up, has hot ingredients, but many ways to come in contact with contaminated foods, hands and utensils before it is eaten. I do know gyros and tacos al pastor.

                              These pathogens are enteric, but the final transmission may not be from direct transmission. Supposedly fecal mater is on the surfaces of many things, such as airplane seats. Washing of hands and clean food preparation and serving should stop the cycle of infection. If you cannot be sure of the cleanliness behind the scenes, make sure you get hot food that has a limited number of ways to get contaminated and consider fruits and vegetables that you can clean and peel yourself.

                              1. re: jnsx

                                It's scary, the number of times I see Thai kitchen help, at 'better' restaurants, leave the toilet without washing their hands. Couple this with the proper use of the Thai toilet, and it's amazing there isn't an epidemic.

                                It's possible that many Thais have developed a natural immunity from long term, minor exposure.

                                The biggest source of food borne contamination is one's own hands. Washing your hands is very important. Bring your own hand sanitizer, washing facilities are often at a premium.

                                1. re: Curt the Soi Hound

                                  If you get Hep A once, you are immune forever and can eat street food to your heart's content.

                                  1. re: Lina

                                    I've been eating Thai street food for almost 20 years and have been sick once. (1992)


                                    1. re: koknia

                                      Perfect disclaimer.

                                      All people are different and have had different exposures. I have never been vaccinated against Hep B, yet I have antibodies. This means that I wouldn't need vaccination, but doesn't necessarily apply to anyone else.

                        2. My favorite part about traveling is street food. Someone said above to be careful of ice, but when you are on the street and you see a street vendor with Thai tea, it's so hard to resist!! And if eating street food makes you uncomfortable and you are going to go for it, just ignore the large buckets of flatware in dirty water on the street. You have to eat mango and sticky rice on the street too!Going back in September!

                          1. Eating in Bangkok is all about eating street food. The food on the street is very flavourful and I would say very fresh.
                            If you are eating a pad thai, according to the Thai's, only street vendors know how to make it properly. You can pay about 10x the price for a pad thai in a restaurant but it would simply taste about the same as one you'd get in North America.
                            Also, don't restrict yourself to eating only the typical pad thai. We found great chicken thighs and pork chops for breakfast which were very flavourful and delicious.
                            We went to Bangkok and Koh Samui for 9 days, and no one got sick from eating at the street vendors. However, there were two cases where they had gotten sick eating at restaurants.

                            1. I had no fears in regards to cleanliness. I ate all meals, for the most part, on the street.

                              I ate seafood items as well as mammalian, poultry, and vegetables, in many variations. Rice and noodles also.

                              In the evenings, tables are set up on the street, and some such expanded stalls offer beer. This is were you can have full meal on the street.

                              Walked away from all such places satisfied, and not one pain in the stomach.