Vendors of street food in Thailand are very good at publicly displaying and showcasing the ingredients and dishes they offer. Even if you don’t know Thai, if you can remember a few food clues, you’ll have a much better time finding and ordering street food in Thailand.
Mark Wiens shares some insider tips from his Eating Thai Food Guide, which will show you how to order from 5 of the most common types of street food carts you’ll find throughout Thailand.
If you remember these main food carts, and the dishes they serve, you’ll have a serious advantage to ordering and eating the best Thai street food.
Let’s get started on street food in Thailand…
1. The Isaan Food Cart (อาหารอีสาน)
Isaan is the northeastern region of Thailand, and it’s famous for food.
To locate an Isaan food cart, be on the look out for a cart that’s stashed with green papayas, cucumbers, tomatoes, and a big wooden or clay mortar and pestle (pictured above). Isaan food carts often also have some meat grilling on the side, like chicken or pork.
Possible dishes to order:
- Som tam (ส้มตำ) – green papaya salad
- Gai yang (ไก่ย่าง) – grilled chicken
- Kaw moo yang (คอหมูย่าง) – grilled pork neck
- Laab moo (ลาบหมู) – minced pork salad
- Nam dok moo (น้ำตกหมู) – grilled pork salad
- Isaan food carts are extremely common in Bangkok and throughout Thailand.
Restaurant to try in Bangkok: Laab Udon (ร้านลาบอุดร)
2. The Ahaan Dam Sang Cart (อาหารตามสั่ง)
Ahaan dam sang, or food made to order, typically refers to stir fried food in Thailand.
Whenever you spot a street food cart where someone is cooking over a wok (a rounded metal skillet), you can be pretty certain you’ve found an ahaan dam sang restaurant.
Along with a wok, you’ll also see a glass cabinet filled with all sorts of different vegetables, eggs, and meat, and maybe a pot or two of soup broth boiling on the side.
Possible dishes to order:
- Pad kra pao (ผัดกระเพรา) – choice of meat with holy basil
- Pad prik gaeng (ผัดพริกแกง) – choice of meat with red curry paste
- Pad pak ruam (ผัดผักรวม) – mixed vegetables
- Moo tod gratiem (หมูทอดกระเทียม) – fried pork with garlic
- Tom yum goong (ต้มยำกุ้ง) – awesome soup
You can either order rad khao (ราดข้าว), meaning on top of a single plate of rice, or gap khao (กับข้าว), where you’ll get the dish and rice on separate plates.
Street Food in Thailand to try in Bangkok: Saeng Chai Pochana (ร้านแสงชัยโภชนา) – this is a great Thai Chinese seafood and stir fry restaurant
3. The Khao Gaeng Cart (ข้าวแกง)
Khao gaeng in Thai means rice and curry, and this is a type of restaurant or cart you’ll see all over Thailand, from the north to the south. If you’re interested in eating Thai curries, this is the best type of restaurant to find.
Dishes are pre-cooked, then usually served in big metal trays or basins, and displayed on a cart, or at the front of a restaurant.
To order, you normally get a plate of rice, and can then point and choose 2 – 3 different dishes of your choice, which will be scooped over the top of your rice.
Possible dishes to order (this depends on which area of Thailand you’re in, you’ll find different dishes in the south or the north of Thailand):
- Gaeng keow wan (แกงเขียวหวาน) – green curry
- Panang moo (แพนงหมู) – panang pork curry
- Massaman (มัสมั่น) – massaman curry
- Kai dao (ไข่ดาว) – fried egg, common at khao gaeng stalls
- Choose anything that looks good!
If you don’t know the names of the dishes, the best way to order khao gaeng is to just point to two or three dishes that look good.
Street Food in Thailand to try in Bangkok: Nang Loeng Market
4. The Nam Prik Cart (น้ำพริก)
Nam prik, refers to any variation of Thai chili dipping sauce, typically served along with fish, rice, and vegetables.
You’ll normally find nam prik food carts at local markets, showcasing a variety of different chili dipping sauces in metal bowls, alongside trays full of boiled vegetables, and often some fried or grilled fish.
To order you can point to a type of nam prik chili sauce, which will then be filled into a little baggie, and you then proceed to choose the side veggies and fish to accompany your nam prik. Nam prik from street food carts is usually sold for takeaway.
Possible dishes to order:
- Nam prik kapi (น้ำพริกกะปิ) – fermented shrimp paste chili dip
- Nam prik noom (น้ำพริกหนุ่ม) – roasted pepper chili dip
- Nam prik pla ra (น้ำพริกปลาร้า) – fermented fish sauce chili dip
- Any selection of vegetables and grilled fish
Restaurant to try in Bangkok: Food stall on Sukhumvit 101 (this is one of the few places that has tables too)
5. The One-Dish Cart (อาหารจานเดียว)
One-dish carts make up a significant part of Thai street food carts.
You can probably tell from the name, but these types of food carts serve just one, or maybe a couple variations, of a dish.
The best way to identify what one-dish carts are selling is to see what they have on display – could be egg noodles, or chicken, or duck. For instance, a food stall that has a couple of boiled chicken hanging in the glass cabinet is probably selling khao man gai (ข้าวมันไก่), or chicken and rice.
Also, make sure you look at what customers are eating – do they all seem to be eating the same dish?
If it looks good, just sit down, and if you don’t speak Thai, you can usually just hold up a finger with the amount of plates you want.
Possible one-dish food carts (there are many):
- Pad Thai (ผัดไทย)
- Khao man gai (ข้าวมันไก่) – chicken and rice
- Khao moo daeng (ข้าวหมูแดง) – rice with red bbq pork
- Jok (โจ๊ก) – rice congee porridge (pictured above)
- Kuay teow gai (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวไก่) – noodle soup with chicken
- Kuay teow reua (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือ) – boat noodles
- Kuay jab (ก๋วยจั๊บ) – noodle rolls in soup
- Moo satay (หมูสะเต๊ะ) – Thai satay
Street Food in ThailandRestaurant to try in Bangkok: Kuay Jab Nay Lek (ก๋วยจั๊บนายเล็ก) – for awesome kuay jab, noodle roll soup.
Read more at Mark Wiens blog: Eating Thai Food Guide. Enjoy!