Where to find Bangkok’s best street food – before gentrification sweeps stalls away
The city’s floating markets and hawkers are falling victim to the march of progress but Thais refuse to give up on their street eats. Read our insider’s guide to the four best places to go
The stalls that lined Sukhumvit Soi 38, where tourists mingled with the drivers sent out by well-heeled neighbours for a midnight snack, have vanished to make way for a construction site.
The sprawling On Nut Market met a similar fate as the ever-expanding Skytrain brings gentrification to what was once considered a remote eastern suburb. Efforts to clean up the city streets mean that it’s not just the amulet sellers of Tha Prachan and the flower vendors at the centuries-old Pak Khlong Talat who have been forced off the street. Many of the hawkers who fed them, and their customers, have been swept aside in the name of progress.
Do the changes in regulations, coupled with diners’ aspirations for air-conditioned comfort, mean that the street cart will suffer the fate of Thailand’s floating markets, doomed to become mere selfie ops that only spring to life when a busload of tourists pulls up? Fortunately for street gourmets who still value a bit of “local” colour, the answer is a resounding no. Thais can and do eat at any hour and require tasty food right outside their front door. Traditional stalls still attract the crowds, while trendy new spots have adapted to cater to modern tastes. Balmy alfresco dining clearly has a bright future in Krung Thep, the City of Angels, as Thais call their capital.
Here’s where to find some of the best street food in Bangkok.
Where: along Yaowarat Road, and adjoining soi (alleys). Take the Chao Phraya Express boat to Memorial Bridge Pier or take the MRT to Hua Lumphong, then walk.
When: food is available throughout the day, but for the full-on experience, the most popular stands open at about 6.30pm and close at about midnight. Many stalls are closed on Monday.
Ever popular, ever chaotic, Yaowarat remains the first choice for Bangkok street eating. From fragrant stir-fries to the freshest seafood, the city’s original Chinatown leaves no room for the mediocre.
Feast on boiled blood cockles (hoi kraeng, 100 baht (HK$22) for a generous plate) on Soi Texas, where cart owner Pa (Auntie) Jin whips up sweet or fiery dipping sauces while her son boils and cracks open the molluscs. “Hong-Kong style” bamee (egg noodles, 40 baht and up) in front of the Thong Bai gold shop on the main road have the requisite wok hei and can be dressed up Thai-style with condiments such as chilli vinegar and extra bean sprouts.
There’s also the popular charcoal-grilled toast (18 baht for two pieces, be prepared to wait) in front of the Government Savings Bank where you choose between sliced bread and rolls and an array of toppings ranging from sangkaya (pandanus and coconut spread) to chilli jam.
Where: For Jaedaeng, come out of Fashion Mall on Ratchathewi Road, turn left, then take a short walk towards Soi 6. For Boat Noodle Alley, exit the mall on the side closest to Victory Monument where the minivans are parked, walk to the end of the alley to the right, take a few steps to the left and you’ll see the noodle shops over a small footbridge on your right
When: Pa Yak is open from 10am to 9pm, Jaedaeng from 5pm to 3am.
Most visitors will only see Victory Monument when they catch a cheap minivan for an out-of-town getaway, completely missing two of Bangkok’s most distinctive street food experiences. Boat noodles are a throwback to the days when Bangkok’s main thoroughfares were canals, not roads. The floating noodle shops have long since come ashore, but at Pa Yak in Boat Noodle Alley (Soi Yod Kuay Teow Reua) they still serve the three-bite portions in big bowls designed to avoid spillage when eating on board. Order bowls of beef or pork soup in pairs like the other diners do to ensure a steady supply and an ever-growing mountain of empty bowls on your table (12 baht per bowl; it is not uncommon for one person to down five, 10 or even more in one sitting). The secret to the dark, fragrant broth? Pork blood. Mix it up by switching between egg or glass noodles, or different widths of rice noodles, then add toppings of pork crackling or fried dumplings.
Around the corner, Raan Kuay Jab Nam Khon Jaedaeng has been serving fast food for 29 years. Their signature dish is kway chap, rice sheets in a thickened gravy, mixed with pork meat and offal (starting at 50 baht). They also offer a few rice and egg noodle dishes. While the food is tasty, it’s the spectacle – some say gimmick – of your order being broadcast down the alleyway over a microphone promptly, followed by the flying delivery of your order carried by running waiters, that is their real claim to fame.
Talat Rot Fai Ratchada
Where: MRT Thailand Cultural Centre, exit 3. Use the main entrance to Esplanade mall, cross the ground floor and take the first exit on the left.
When: Tuesdays to Sundays, 5pm to midnight
Warm evening air and beer over ice make night markets a huge draw here, but few have matched the winning combination of Talat Rot Fai, or the railway market. The original venue in an abandoned railway yard opened in 2011 and has since closed, but the name stuck and the mix of retro style and plentiful food has been reproduced in three other locations with success. The two suburban sites require a bit of a trek, but visitors to convenient Ratchada find the same laid-back atmosphere, tightly packed stalls, hip watering holes and live indie music.
International nibbles like burgers (from 150 baht) and Korean chicken wings (from 25 baht) sit beside Thai classics including squid eggs (50 baht) and hamok (pounded curried fish grilled in banana leaves,฿30 baht). Several stands encourage sharing oversized dishes such as somtam (green papaya salad garnished with noodles, fish, sausage and vegetables, 150 baht for a platter for two or more) or of noodles topped with giant fish balls, dumplings or crab (170 baht to 350 baht).
Where: Lower ground floor, Central Embassy, corner of Ploenchit Road and Wireless (Witthayu) Road, BTS Ploenchit exit 5
When: 10am-10pm (most stop serving by 9.30pm)
Eathai is one of the few popular attractions in a mall that has yet to gain traction with Bangkok’s fussy shoppers, who have dubbed it Central Empty. The upscale food court is divided into two sections: mock street carts serve classics such as noodle soup, Hainanese chicken rice (known in Thailand as khao man gai) and barbecued pork skewers (moo ping); and the stands serving food cooked to order from every region of Thailand. Don’t miss the oyster pancakes (hoi tod, 80 baht) best ordered extra-crisp; kanom jeen – fermented rice noodles with curry or spicy dips (95 to 185 baht); and mee phat korat, the fried noodle dish that is pad Thai’s upcountry cousin with a kick (starting at 120 baht). The prices are twice what you’d pay on the street, purists may object to the Disney-fied décor and this may be the only food court that hits you with a service charge, but the food is thoughtfully prepared and the staff are helpful and will bring your dishes to the table when ready. Just hand over your receipt when you sit down. They can also fetch drinks for you. This is authentic street food without the hassle of the street.