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.

Sport
football
News
Hillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Sport
wimbledonScot will face Ivo Karlovic next
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
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: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

    Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

    £33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel and Spa Duty Manager

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are friendly, sociable, ...

    Recruitment Genius: Payroll and Benefits Co-ordinator

    £22300 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This museum group is looking for a Payro...

    Day In a Page

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test