Food for Thought
Bangkok street food is renowned not only for its quality, but its incredible variety and low cost, too. The City of Angels has long been acknowledged as a culinary capital, boasting Michelin star chefs and a host of award winning dining establishments, but it is also the more humble street eateries and stalls which have captured the attention and stomachs of a global audience for many years.
Walk around the sois anytime of night or day, food is available 24-7 here and you encounter an intoxicating mix of sights, sounds and smells. The sizzle of Isaan sausages and moo ping – grilled pork on sticks, the pounding of pestles into mortars as the nation’s favorite – som tam – papaya salad is being prepared, the slurping of tasty noodles and a range of aromatic stirfried dishes and delicious soups.
Your reporter at large, or should that be large reporter, is an unashamed fan of enjoying meals on the street. Over the past 14 years I have savored so much good food, without any trouble or stomach upsets, but there are some dos and don’ts when contemplating eating al fresco:
Go to the street food carts where there’s a queue in front, they’re popular for a good reason. Watch them for a few minutes and see how they make the food and what they do before you decide to order. Choose food which is cooked in front of you, better than the pre-prepared food canteens.
If the food is swarming with flies and looks unappetizing, or there are suspicious odors, then go somewhere else. Do make sure your seafood is resting in ice and not in the heat. Choose the hot food or items still cooking on the street stall grill, rather than meat which has already been taken off. If you’re taking it home, then heat up in a microwave before eating.
Want extra chili or vegetables? Try not to put your fingers in the communal bowl of flakes or veggies already on the table, the one everyone else has dipped their digits in, ask the vendor for a fresh bowl. Do watch the vendor’s hands and make sure a dirty thumb doesn’t get stuck in your dish when it’s given to you.
Clean the cutlery before you use it, there are usually one-ply tissues in a container on the tables for that purpose. Do use bottled water which is unopened and avoid ice cubes as they are often handled without much sanitation. Move away from the street carts a little to avoid sitting in spilled oil, possible burns and simply obstructing others.
Try not to offer large notes to pay for the meals, the vendors are very busy and usually don’t have the money to change, or they have to take time to go to another stall to get the required notes to give you back. It helps to keep small coins in your pocket for just such a reason. If they receive and hand back your change with the same hands they use to touch your food or cook, avoid the place next time (it’s too late this time).
So, pull up a chair, be adventurous, try new food, and get ready for an appetizing and safe gastronomic occasion!