Grub street: Bangkok still reigns supreme when it comes to street food

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Every city in the world is now getting in on the street-food act, but Bangkok is still the best, says John Brunton in his own words and pictures.

Bangkok is a city that never sleeps, a frenetic, anarchic, 24-hour metropolis whose streets are jammed with traffic and people day and night. But those streets are also lined with a non-stop array of tempting food stalls which never seem to close, chaotically set out on the pavement, surrounded by dozens of rickety tables with diners balancing on wobbly stools.

On every corner a cook is bent over a blazing wok, surrounded by a cornucopia of dazzling ingredients – wriggling freshwater prawns, giant lobsters and crabs, freshly-caught seabass, pomfret and grouper fish, plump frogs' legs and snails, clams and exotic crustaceans that look more like sci-fi creatures, myriad exotic vegetables, and delicious tropical fruits ranging from tangy rambutans and lychees to sweet papaya and pungent durian.

I have been travelling all over Asia for many years, eating and photographing street food, but what has always been a local phenomenon is now influencing chefs and restaurant owners all over the world. And if any city deserves the title of capital of street food, then Bangkok has to be the prime contender.

The inhabitants of the Thai capital are mad about food, eating round the clock, and no one thinks twice of braving the traffic jams and crowds to cross from one side of the city to the other just to sample the latest hotspot serving a specialist dish such as 'khao soi' – egg noodles with a mild curry sauce, shallots and pickled cabbage.

There is no stigma attached to street food, so even in the financial district, you'll see sharp-suited businessmen squatting on a stool at a pavement stall next to building workers, both there just for the delicious grub. And as Thais are seriously fastidious about cleanliness, no one should have concerns about the hygiene of eating outside – even the most ramshackle stall along a busy road is spotlessly clean, the products could not be fresher, and even the washing-up is all done in front of you.

Bangkok is a city of markets, and I have always found the best stalls tucked away in different markets. Sampeng Lane is the city's quintessential Chinatown market, and down its narrow streets I discovered a brilliant stall selling 'mamueng nampla wan', a salad of huge green Thai olives and unripe mango, smothered in lethal chillies and dried prawns, while there are always crowds queuing up for stalls specialising in succulent grilled squids, wok-fried fish eggs and barbecued fish wrapped in banana leaf.

In the midst of the maze of textile shops of the murky Pahurat market, I came across an Indian shrine with a small food stall where a Thai lady prepares the best – and spiciest – 'som tam' (green papaya salad) that you will taste in Bangkok. Every chef has their own special recipe for 'som tam', and her secret is to pound in baby crabs to her magic potion. And amid the kaleidoscope of flowers displayed in Pak Khlong market, a stall specialises in chargrilled aubergines, 'Makhuer Phao', that look horribly burnt and smoky on the outside but which are deliciously juicy inside, as the aubergine has been marinated in lime juice and a sour fish sauce.

And at the glitzy Suan Lum night bazaar, they prepare an offbeat variation of the classic 'tom yum moo', cooked Isaan-style from north-east Thailand, using not prawns or chicken as the main ingredient, but pig's intestines, tongue and tail, as well as ribs and lean fillet. Eating out on the street in Bangkok is always a spicy adventure, and the one simple rule I follow is to check out what everyone is eating, and if it looks good, just sit down and order the same.

News
The cartoon depicts the UK (far left) walking around a Syrian child refugee
newsIn an exclusive artwork for The Independent, Ali Ferzat attacks Britain's lack of 'humanity'
Life and Style
Man taking selfie in front of car
health
Sport
footballManager attacks Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp after criticism of Diego Costa's apparent stamping
Life and Style
food + drink
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
British author Helen Macdonald, pictured with Costa book of the year, 'H is for Hawk'
booksPanel hail Helen Macdonald's 'brilliantly written, muscular prose'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Frozen out: despite being filmed in Iceland, 'Fortitude' is set further north, in the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard
tvGerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Life and Style
Carmen Khu from The Royal China Club pours a cup of Dai-Hong-Po tea
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Day In a Page

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

    Pot of gold

    Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
    10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

    From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

    While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
    Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

    Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore