A guide to some of Bangkok’s best roadside restos
In Bangkok street food is a big deal. And it’s not just an easy stop on the sidewalk on the way to the office, or a convenient snack after a night out drinking—it’s a way for skillful vendors to earn up to 30 times more than the minimum wage, for women with young children to join the workforce easily, and for people of modest means to feed themselves economically. Little wonder, then, that Bangkok boasts an estimated 500,000 street food stalls set up at 683 points throughout the city.
And, of course, it’s a surefire way to establish your street cred as a bona fide ‘Local’ with a capital “L”. Ask any Bangkokian about where to find the best egg noodles or curry rice, and crack open the friendly reserve that usually greets any visitor to the Land of Smiles. Thais are happy to debate the merits of this or that vendor—whether trading amulets at the local coffee shop, or in line at the bank, or even over wine at the finest French restaurant in town. It’s the Bangkok equivalent of showing your support for the home team.
Yet many Thais—even now, even still—find it hard to believe that visitors to the City of Angels would deign to sit on a plastic stool just a few meters from oncoming traffic, slurping on the same soup noodles that inspire the devotion of hundreds of Bangkokians every day. Since eating on the streets is considered a uniquely Thai pastime, maybe Thais forget that sharing a street food meal is the easiest, and still the best, way to insert yourself into the fabric of local life. Here, some of Bangkok’s best places to go for a roadside nosh:
CHINATOWN: Few discussions of Bangkok street food are complete without a mention of Chinatown, known as “Yaowarat” among locals. Considered the birthplace of Thai street food, Yaowarat Road was the nexus for Thailand’s burgeoning Chinese community, which started immigrating to the country en masse in the 1800s. Luckily for Thai cuisine, the Chinese brought with them new cooking techniques, like stir-frying, deep-frying, and making broth, as well as novel uses for ingredients such as duck and eggs in savoury dishes. And of course, they brought with them noodles!
To this day, the vast bulk of Thai street food is Chinese-inspired: anything with noodles, chicken rice, congee, roast duck, barbecued pork, or black sesame dumplings in ginger syrup. Perhaps, most fortunately, the Chinese brought us oyster omelets (hoy tod), thin layers of egg and flour bearing a quickly stir-fried harvest of fresh oysters and flavoured with lashings of sweet chili sauce. When it comes to this dish, no Chinatown vendor is as celebrated as Nai Mong Hoy Tod (539 Soi Prapachai, open daily 11am-9:30pm), which offers a choice between oysters (hoy nangrom) and mussels (hoy mangpu), either soft and comfortingly gloopy (nim), or buoyant and crispy (grob). They also make a mean crab fried rice (khao pad pu) for the oyster-averse.
BANGLAMPHU: When visitors think of Bangkok, chances are they are thinking of the “Old Town”, also known as Banglamphu. Named after the big trees that once lined the city’s many canals—earning Bangkok the nickname “Venice of the East”—this neighbourhood hosts some of the city’s most memorable landmarks, such as the Royal Palace, the Chinese Swing, and the Champs Elysees-like Rachadamnern Road, as well as many of Bangkok’s most famous and longstanding street food vendors.
Because of the mosque in the neighbourhood, Banglamphu is also a longtime center for the city’s Thai-Muslim community. Comprising only about 5 percent of Thailand’s population, Thai-Muslims actually form the majority in the country’s three southernmost provinces—Yala, Narathiwat, and Pattani. That Southern location is the reason for the trademarks of good Thai-Muslim cuisine: plenty of dried spices, a pronounced Malay influence, and rich, strong flavours. All of that is on display at Aisa Rot Dee (at the beginning of Thanee Rd, open daily 8am-5pm, except on the 4th Monday of the month). It’s a literal hole-in-the-wall that magically broadens out into a secret courtyard, offering everything from satay and meatballs, to soup noodles and biryani. Standouts are the chicken biryani with a tart, bracing oxtail soup, and curried beef noodles.
SUKHUMVIT: Sukhumvit is more readily associated with Bangkok’s hipster whisky bars and Japanese eateries, but as with anything in the city, good stuff can be found if you look hard enough. Even though a few of the neighbourhood’s most well-regarded street food vendors have been forced to pull up roots (such as the night market at Sukhumvit Soi 38), some continue to serve loyal customers the same specialties that wowed diners decades ago.
For the past 40 years or so, Guaythiew Pik Gai Sainampung (392/20 Sukhumvit, between Sois 18 and 20, open daily 9am-3:30pm) is all about its namesake dish: chicken wing noodles in a fragrant, toothsome broth that comes adorned with cowslip creeper blossoms—if you come by early enough. The usual rice noodle options (thick, thin, egg, glass vermicelli) are available, but if you are looking for something a little different, try the Chinese-style giem ee, a thick, hand-rolled noodle reminiscent of German spätzle.
PETCHBURI: Few visitors to Bangkok would say they are drawn to this bustling, largely blue-collar section of town. But unbeknownst to many, a swath of Petchburi Road close to the Ratchthewi intersection is known informally as “Isaan central”, thanks to the handful of Northeastern Thai eateries catering to the homesick Isaan Thais calling this part of Bangkok home. Fancy a bite of “grilled pig uterus”? Maybe a bit of ant’s egg spicy soup, or barbecued pork intestine? Chances are, you will find those very specific specialties on Petchburi Road between Sois 11 and 15, cooked with all the fire and acidity of a dish back in Ubon Ratchathani.
Among the most popular Isaan vendors on the sidewalk is Jay Dang (Petchburi Rd, across the street from Soi 7, open daily after 5:30pm). Renowned the neighbourhood over for its juicy grilled chicken thighs, fermented Thai anchovy-speckled green papaya salads, mint-crowned larbs (minced meat salads), and, perhaps most deliciously, salt-encrusted snakehead fish stuffed with herbs, split open to reveal tender flesh. Accompany all with a big bottle of Singha beer and a plate of sticky rice.
SAM YAN: One of the most rapidly changing neighbourhoods over the past few years is Sam Yan, a lively wet market area that is slowly-but-surely being redeveloped by current landlord Chulalongkorn University. Of the many vendors that once called this area home, only a handful remain, but few are as famous the city over as Joke Samyan (Chula Soi 11, open daily 5am-9am, and 3:30pm-9pm). The street food staple of joke, or Chinese-style congee, is prized for the silkiness of its broken-down rice grains, gained through hours of careful stirring. But, as with anything else adapted by Thais, this dish has been given a flavourful spin with additions like pickled peppers in vinegar, fish sauce, slivered ginger, coriander, and spring onion.
At Joke Samyan, the vendor goes a step further with its peppery pork meatballs, considered the most popular item on the menu and irresistible when paired with a single egg, cooked gently by the heat of the porridge. If you are especially ambitious and visiting for breakfast, stop across the alleyway to buy a freshly cooked bag of patongko (deep-fried Chinese-style crullers) for dipping into your joke. Because this area is being gentrified, Joke Samyan will be expected to find a new home in three years’ time, so rush to this very famous shophouse vendor while you still can.
In Case You Missed It
These neighbourhoods are frequently overlooked by visitors new to Bangkok’s street food scene. Trawl through one (or two, or three) of them to see what you may have been missing.
VICTORY MONUMENT: Perhaps no neighbourhood in Bangkok is as inextricably linked with a street food dish as Victory Monument is with “boat noodles” (guaythiew rua), so named because they were once served by floating vendors from their sampans. While some vendors of the noodles—served nam tok, or flavoured by the juices dripping from pork or beef as they cook—opened their doors far from the canals they used to work, some set up shop along the canal near the northeast exit of Victory Monument’s traffic circle, thereby birthing the neighbourhood’s famous “boat noodle alley”.
ARI: This up-and-coming neighbourhood has been making headlines for the trendy cafes and bars that have opened doors here recently. Although Sois 1-3 feature a mass of vendors offering the usual streetside favourites (egg noodles, pad Thai, and roti with spun sugar floss), arguably the most famous vendor here is 30-year-old Maliwan Kanom Thai at the beginning of Soi 1. The Thai desserts here are the draw, especially the layered kanom chan made with rice flour and coconut, available in green, brown and purple.
WANG LANG: In the shadow of the famous Siriraj Hospital is one of the best centers for Southern Thai food outside of Southern Thailand. Fiercely spicy and centered around nam prik (chili dips) and seafood, Southern Thai cuisine is a particularly popular segment of street food, as visitors to the south side of Phran Nok Road will attest. Here, the street is lined by several longstanding Southern Thai vendors, all serving favourites like massaman curry, stir-fried sator (stinkbeans), and khao yum (an herbal rice salad).
By Chawadee Nualkhair