Street food in Thailand brings together various offerings of ready-to-eat meals, snacks, fruits and drinks sold by hawkers or vendors at food stalls or food carts on the street side in Thailand. Sampling Thai street food is a popular itinerary for visitors, as it offers a glance of Thai cooking tradition. Bangkok is often mentioned as one of the best place for street food. In 2012, VirtualTourist named Bangkok as the number one spot for street food — the city is notable for both its variety of offerings and the abundance of street hawkers.
There is scarcely a Thai dish that is not sold by a street vendor or at a market somewhere in Thailand. Some specialize in only one or two dishes, others offer a complete menu that rival that of restaurants. Some sell only pre-cooked foods, others make food to order. The foods that are made to order, tend to be dishes that can be quickly prepared: quick stir fries with rice, such as kaphrao mu (spicy basil-fried minced pork) or phat khana (stir fried gailan), and quick curries such as pladuk phat phet (catfish fried with red curry paste).
The dishes sold at wet markets in Thailand tend to be offered pre-cooked. Many people go there, and also to street vendors, to buy food for at work, or to take back home. It is a common sight to see Thais carrying whole communal meals consisting of several dishes, cooked rice, sweets, and fruit, all neatly packaged in plastic bags and foam food containers, to be shared with colleagues at work or at home with friends and family. Due to the fact that many dishes are similar to those that people would cook at home, it is a good place to find regional, and seasonal, foods.
Food markets in Thailand, large open air halls with permanent stalls, tend to operate as a collection of street stalls, each vendor with their own set of tables and providing (limited) service, although some resemble the regular food courts at shopping malls and large supermarkets, with service counters and the communal use of tables. Food courts and food markets offer many of the same foods as street stalls, both pre-cooked as well as made to order. Night food markets, in the form of a collection of street stalls and mobile vendors, spring up in parking lots, along busy streets, and at temple fairs and local festivals in the evenings, when the temperatures are more agreeable and people have finished work.
Traditionally, Thai foods are prepared daily by housewives in every Thai household. Yet, selling food is a common economic activity in old Siam, as various ingredients, fruits and traditional delicacies was offered on boats in canals as "floating market" as early as the Ayutthaya Period (1350-1767). Floating market's food or canal's food has been sold from boats on Thailand's rivers and canals for over two centuries. However, since the early 20th century King Rama V's modernizations have caused a shift towards land-based stalls. Nevertheless, street food did not become popular among native Thai people until the early 1960s, when the rapid urban population growth stimulated the street food culture, and by the 1970s it had "displaced home-cooking." In Bangkok parlance, a housewife who feeds her family from a street food vendor is known as a "plastic-bag housewife", which originated from streets vendors packaging the food in plastic bags.
The current proliferation of Thailand's lively street food culture was contributed from both internal and external factors; Thai people way of life that involved a lot of agricultural and food production activities, their rich culinary tradition, rapid urbanization in recent decades that opened opportunities in foodservice sectors especially in urban areas, as well as the foreign visitors' rising demand of local food prompted by the advent of the country's tourism industry.
Noodles are a popular street food item as they are mainly eaten as a single dish. Noodle dishes include pad Thai; rat na, flat noodles with beef, pork, or chicken and vegetables, topped with a light gravy; and rad naa's twin, phat si-io, the same flat noodles dry-fried (no gravy) with a dark soy sauce, vegetables, meat, and chili. Chinese-style noodle soups, fried noodles, and fermented Thai rice noodles (khanom chin), served with a choice of different Thai curries, are popular.
Nearly everywhere in Thailand som tam (green papaya salad) and sticky rice are sold at stalls and roadside shops. This is popularly eaten together with grilled chicken; but if the shop doesn't sell any themselves, someone else nearby will. Other dishes include tom yum kung (a sour shrimp soup), khao phat (fried rice), various kinds of satay, and various curries. Japanese chikuwa and German sausages have also appeared in Bangkok.
In most cities and towns there will be stalls selling sweet roti, a thin, flat fried dough envelop, with fillings such as banana, egg, and chocolate. The roti is similar to the Malay roti canai and Singaporean roti prata, and the stalls are often operated by Thai Muslims.
Sweets snacks, collectively called khanom, such as tako (coconut cream jelly), khanom man (coconut cassava cake), and khanom wun (flavored jellies), can be seen displayed on large trays in glass covered push-carts. Other sweets, such as khanom bueang and khanom khrok (somewhat similar to Dutch poffertjes), are made to order.
In the evenings, mobile street stalls, often only a scooter with a side car, drive by and temporarily set up shop outside bars in Thailand, selling kap klaem ("drinking food"). Popular kap klaem dishes sold by mobile vendors are grilled items such as sun-dried squid, meats on skewers, or grilled sour sausages, and deep-fried snacks such as fried sausages. Peeled and sliced fruits are also sold from street carts, laid out on a bed of crushed ice to preserve their freshness. Salapao, steamed buns filled with meat or sweet beans and the Thai version of the Chinese steamed baozi, are also commonly sold by mobile vendors. Street food scene in Thailand also offers a rather exotic delicacies; various kinds of edible insects as food.
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