Pungent blasts of red chilli, waves of redolent spices, hot griddles, the hiss of gas and the sizzle of hot oil, huge vats and woks and leaping flames are all part of the crowded, noisy Bangkok sidewalk experience.
Most of the city’s population eat outdoors, where you can get a good meal for 30 baht (S$1.20) – and a positively excellent meal for around 60 baht. This makes Bangkok one of the cheapest big cities in the world to eat out in, if one sticks to the street. And the flavours are the envy of many a five-star chef.
It’s a tough one, but I count Jok Sam Yan, Kuay Jap Anusawaree, Kuang Heng and Mae Am as my top street food choices. For its authenticity and taste, The Best of the Boat Noodles also makes it to my list.
Jok Sam Yan
Address: Chula Soi 11, Pathum Wan, Bangkok
How to get there: It is a short walk from the Sam Yan MRT underground station. Walk from the MRT past Chamchuri Square building and then turn right
Opening hours: Open daily from 5am to 9am, 3.30pm to 9pm
Contact: +66 02 216 4809, +66 08 5846 1110
This stall has been in business for more than 60 years and serves about 1,000 bowls daily of jok, or soupy rice porridge with a generous helping of pork morsels at 35 baht without an egg, and 40 baht with an egg. Extra pork can be added for 45 baht to 50 baht.
The porridge is given a kick with shaved ginger and a sprinkle of coriander. Add red chilli flakes and a lashing of soy sauce and the character of the dish is developed. The pork morsels are especially succulent. This is the ultimate comfort food, Bangkok style.
Kuay Jap Anusawaree
Address: Not available, but if you get lost, ask a local who would be able to point you quickly in the right direction
How to get there: It is a short walk from Victory Monument Skytrain station. Take the rightmost walkway and the first flight of stairs down to find it right there on the corner
Opening hours: 24 hours daily
Contact: Not available
A bowl of kuay jap, a peppery soup full of kuay teow noodles and bits of pork offal, liver and blood tofu, will cost you 30 baht. This place has been operating since 1967. "They know me in Japan, in America," one of the family members told me.
Victory Monument is a major intersection and is always busy, ensuring a steady stream of customers. A cauldron of soup is constantly on the boil at the small stall. No wonder the fast food giants - companies such KFC and McDonald's - face stiff competition in Thailand.
Kuang Heng Kaiton Pratunam
Address: Petchburi Soi 30, Bangkok
How to get there: It is located diagonally opposite from Pratunam market.. Exit Centralworld (a shopping mall near the four-faced Buddha statue) near Isetan, take the overhead bridge and walk towards the flyover. Turn right at the junction and walk for about one minute. Look for the “30 Phetchaburi” road sign and the shop is right next to it at the intersection. The staff are dressed in pink
Opening hours: Open daily from 5.30am to 3pm and 5pm to 3am
Contact: +66 02 252 6325
The only dish this 15-year-old stall serves is khao man gai, a variant of Hainanese chicken rice; the rice is cooked in a lighter chicken broth and shaved ginger and green chillies give the light body a sharp edge.
A standard plate is a light lunch or dinner for 30 baht. Another 10 baht will give you some extra slices of chicken. Owner Chaveewan Jirachaithorn smiles modestly when asked how many dishes are served every day and says: “I can’t say.”
Every three to four minutes though, she receives payment from a customer – and it is not even peak lunch hour. As the saying goes, if there are lots of locals in a food place, you know it is a good one.
Address: On Rama IV road at Klong Toey
How to get there: It is located about 200m from Klong Toey MRT station and opposite the Klong Toey Metropolitan Electricity Authority
Opening hours: Open on weekdays from 11am to 10pm, and weekends from 2 to 10pm. Closed on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month
Contact: +66 08 1917 6871, +66 02 225 0301
Pad thai is arguably Thailand’s national dish but it wasn’t always the case. The dish derives its roots from Vietnam, created with a mix of Vietnamese “Pho” rice noodles, and Thai and Chinese ingredients such as banana flower, garlic, ground peanuts, tiny dried shrimps, shallots, sugar, tamarind paste, ground chillies, a slice of lime and chives.
It only became a national dish in the 1930's and 1940's when Prime Minister Luang Phibungsongkhram led a national campaign in an effort to promote patriotism and encourage the support of local rice farmers. He disseminated the recipe for pad thai widely, and citizens began gradually selling the new national dish on street carts all around the city.
The hunt for Bangkok’s best can be a daunting task. There are dozens of different ways to cook it and balance the different flavours, but this stall has been in business 20 years, serving up to 150 dishes of pad thai on an average day.
The Best Of The Boat Noodle (Sutyot Kuetiau Lua Payak)
Address: Phaya Thai, Bangkok 10400
How to get there: Get off from the BTS at Victory Monument station and walk through the Victory Monument skywalk. Once past the monument, walk along the canal. Look for the staff wearing orange and you’ve got it
Opening hours: Open daily from 11am to 9pm
Contact: +66 2 271 3178
A little stall near the Victory Monument, but The Best Of The Boat Noodle really lives up to its name.There are around five stalls there, all selling boat noodles, or kway teow rua, but this one is obviously the crowd’s favourite, with some ordering 10 to 20 bowls at a go.
Boat noodles are not the most popular Thai dish among tourists but there’s something about a simple bowl of rice noodles with pork or beef slices and bean sprouts, in a thick flavourful broth that will have you coming back for more. A bowl of noodles costs only 10 baht ($0.42) and the portions are palm-sized – you can polish it off in two bites.
So don’t be shy, go ahead and order five bowls (or more). The last time we heard customers who ordered 20 bowls of noodles were entitled to a free bottle of Pepsi too.