The colourful, imaginative and delicious variations of Thai street food

Photo Credit: “XOKA0594BS-YELLOWRED” by Phuket@photographer.net via Flickr. License info.

Thailand’s street food is worthy of its legendary status in the culinary world, and its variety is stunning. Night markets dot every city, as the evening’s cooler temperatures encourage people to go outside and make the streets hum. Colourful tents line soi — small, intertwining streets — filled with shops, restaurants, bars and, best of all, food carts.

In Phuket’s Patong district, Bangla Road winds through the city with various sois branching off from it. At the end of Bangla Road is the Bangla Night Market, where the street food stalls are grouped in the centre. Seating is around the perimeter, so each person can choose what they like before joining their friends to eat. Bangla Night Market also has a beer garden to wash down all that spicy food, though you’ll find the many fruit smoothies, sugarcane juice and whole coconuts can do the trick as well.

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Pick Your Protein

Though many of the tents are meat- and seafood-heavy, there are lots of Halal options and vegetarian choices, too. They’re easy to find, as those shops are marked with yellow flags. And it’s all fresh — most Thai street food is made before your eyes. It’s also customisable; the heat level, protein and other add-ons are up to you.

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Fantastical Fruits

Fresh tropical fruits abound, some of which may be familiar to Westerners, like pineapple and mango, while others surely will be more exotic: rambutan, dragonfruit, durian, jackfruit, pomelo and lychee, to name a few. A classic street food dish is green papaya or som tam, where shredded fruit is mixed with cabbage, tomatoes, green beans, peanuts, dried shrimp, chilis and fish sauce.

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Noodles Abound

Noodle dishes are a typical offering, whether it’s Pad Thai sautéed in a wok or a custom noodle bowl made with thick, rice vermicelli noodles. Noodles can also be served with a choice of curry sauces from clay pots, then topped with fresh herbs and vegetables. Soups come in a range of varieties — delicacies like chicken foot soup are as common as the more approachable Tom Yum soup.

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So Many Skewers

Another theme in Thai street food is meat on a stick. You’ll find every imaginable iteration of meat or seafood with every possible sauce can be found there, piled on tables or grilled while you wait. There are grilled pork short ribs, sun-dried and grilled beef jerky in a sweet sauce, pork sausage with curried rice mixed inside and chicken satay to name a few. The meat is cooked on small, portable charcoal grills and is often served with a sticky rice cake on the side.

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Fried Finds

The other preferred method for cooking Thai street food is frying, whether it be in a wok, like fried rice, or in the case of many bite-sized choices like fish cakes, curried fish balls, sausages wrapped in dough, egg rolls, and more — deep fried. Thai fried chicken is wildly popular, as is the Japanese-influenced Takoyaki, balls of batter filled with meat, seafood, or cheese and fried in a special round mould.

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Must-Do Desserts

Crepes, pancakes, or roti — whichever term you prefer — is a street-food must, whether the filling is savoury or sweet. The Thai love their sweets, and you’ll find tables full of jelly-filled doughnuts, cakes, sweet puffed rice cakes, coconut rice dumplings, Thai jelly and sweet sticky rice. Thai-style rolled ice cream is becoming a culinary phenomenon: vendors mash ice cream with fresh fruit, spread it thinly over a frozen metal plate and scrape it into rolls before serving it in a cup.

Though the varieties of Thai street food go on and on, being familiar with these basics will get your night-market exploration started. From there, you can expect to discover something new at every stall in every market in every city.