I go on holiday to eat. Ok maybe I do a bit of relaxing and sightseeing as well, but I definitely go on holiday for the food.
My latest holiday to Thailand was no exception. Sure, I marvel and the ancient temples and love the beaches, but it's the food that interests me the most. I love seeing the food on the streets – the little food carts, dotted randomly around or gathered in groups to form an outdoor food court. Admittedly most of the time I walk past just looking at them, wondering if the food is safe for my delicate Western stomach.
In the past, I have avoided most street food carts – my most adventurous choice was one of those outdoor food courts/markets (and the food was great). So when Mr H and I went to Thailand last month, we decided to be more daring. Not silly, but more daring... well, sort of.
I love experiencing places through its food and wandering the streets of Bangkok – seeing the street vendors sell an array of various meat on sticks, cut fruit and even fried grasshoppers – I found myself wanting to eat some of these things (maybe not the grasshoppers!) so I feel less like a tourist and more like an intrepid traveller.
I had the advice of friends and family floating around in my head as I hovered over the stalls: "Eat only things that are cooked in front of you and don't eat anything raw!" Righty-ho, got ya.
I had it on good authority that Bangkok's Soi 38
was the place to go for a good street food dinner. Literally a stone's
throw from the Thonglor BTS station (Bangkok's ultra-efficient Sky Train
system), you can't miss it.
I wanted to soak up the atmosphere so we ate road-side, even though there was a decent sized communal indoor dining room. Aside from street food being pretty d'lish, it's
cheap-as... our meals cost 50 baht each –
roughly NZ$2. My eyes always gravitate towards the noodle dishes and I couldn't pass up the char kwey teo and Mr H made a bee line for a noodle soup with
dumplings and roast duck. My noodles aren't what I expected, but still very nice – that zing you get from squeezing on lime juice just before eating makes the dish all the better...
The main destination of our Thailand trip was Koh Samui, a popular island in the Gulf of Thailand, where we had booked in six days of serious relaxation.
On the main strip of the Lamai Beach area, there's a little area of street food carts. It's cosied up next to the big group of go-go bars, which all sport a dancing pole in the middle. Not my cup of tea, but the food carts are! Because Koh Samui is primarily a tourist island, the street food in the main street is probably pretty safe and it looked like most of the customers here were other travellers anyway.
I spotted what I wanted... a green papaya salad. I had been wanting one ever since arriving in Thailand. Just the utter freshness of the ingredients, the promise of that much-lauded balance of sweet, sour, salty and heat won me over. Armed with her ingredients and a large mortar and pestle, the lady at the salad cart was doing a roaring trade with the locals who all seemed to be having a salad which included a small crab. Oh hang on, I shouldn't be having this raw salad from a street cart, let alone one that had cold seafood in it?! I waited with a little apprehension as only locals (and me) got our food in turn.
Then the lady turned to me and said "want chilli?", to which I replied "just a little". She popped one chilli into her mortar and pestle and went to work (I noticed that the locals were getting the standard four chillies). A bit of garlic, sugar and dried shrimp when in next. Pound, scrape, pound, scrape. Next she snapped a long snake bean into bite-sized lengths and chucked in a few roasted peanuts. Pound, scrape, pound, scrape. A handful of finely shredded papaya, bean sprouts, cherry tomatoes and squirt of fish sauce and lime juice. Pound, scrape, pound, scrape. It was all done in a matter of a minute or two.
I found a space for Mr H and I on the long, communal tables, squeezed between a couple of French families – it looks like the locals eat their food at home. Mr H trotted back with his dinner and a couple of freshly blended juices. The papaya salad, despite being completely raw and mixed in the same bowl as the seafood salad delivered on its promise of that balance of sweet, salty, sour and a little heat... and it was totally safe, no nasty repercussions!
This little cluster of street food vendors became a favourite dining spot for us, and Mr H took a particular liking to the fried chicken. It even served as a dessert stop before heading back to our hotel. The Thai do wonderful pancake filled with your choice of bananas, chocolate, cashews, evaporated milk, or just lemon and sugar. That sure satisfied my midnight snack munchies.
I think the trick to safe street food eating is to feel free to be adventurous but still be sensible – stay away from the many food carts that didn't look so hygienic or busy. And I still steered clear of the cut fruit that is everywhere. You should be fine if you stick to busy food carts and ones that looks relatively clean.
But if you are still wary of eating food from the street vendors, I recommend going to the food hall in Siam Paragon in Bangkok. Meatball skewers, mango sticky rice and noodles galore, there you can find a lot of the food that is sold on the streets, but in a cleaner environment.
I think I need to go on another holiday so I can try out the street food of another country – maybe Malaysia, or somewhere in South America next time? :)
I would love to know where you have tried street food, what you ate and what you thought of it, feel free to let us know by leaving a comment below.
Soi 38 street food
Closest BTS station: Thong Lo
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Lamai street food
Hat Lamai Road, by the outdoor bars
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Siam Paragon Food Hall
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1 Pathum Wan
Closest BTS station: Siam
10am – 10pm