10 Mouthwatering Thai Street foods for beginners

Thai street food
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10 Mouthwatering Thai Street foods for beginners

Trying street food is something you should not miss when visiting Thailand. You can find street stalls, carts or food trucks almost everywhere in many big cities like Bangkok, Phuket or Chiang Mai, these stalls provide quick, easy dishes and treats with low price as well as offer visitors an authentic Thai experience.
There is a variety of foods you can find on the streets, but if it is your first time to Thailand and you are unacquainted with Thai street food it might be confusing and you may not be sure what is safe to order, especially if you cannot handle spicy foods well.
Here are our ten recommended dishes you can start with:

1. Pad Thai (Thai-Style Fried Noodles)

Pad Thai
The Pad Thai most traditionally and commonly found at street stalls, food courts and open air markets.

This internationally famous dish is a good choice for you when start exploring Thai street food. Pad Thai is a stir-fried noodle dish which is usually made with medium-size rice noodle mixed with fish sauce, sugar, lime juice or tamarind pulp, egg, bean sprouts, Chinese chives, ground peanuts, combined with pork, chicken, seafood, or tofu.
The good balance of salty, sweet and a little sour taste, and if you don’t add chili by choice, it is not spicy at all.

2. Pad See Ew (Thai Stir-Fried Noodles with Dark Soy Sauce)

Pad See Ew
Pad See Ew (ผัดซีอิ๊ว) is a widely popular fried noodle dish in Thailand.

Pad See Ew is another stir-fried noodle dish that is easily found among street food venders, but it offers a different character and taste from Pad Thai. The dish is made with wide rice noodle and stir-fried in a wok with dark soy sauce for a caramelizing effect and charred smoky flavor which is the defining feature of the dish.
Thai cookers usually add Chinese broccoli or cabbage and a choice of sliced meat – commonly pork, chicken, beef, shrimp, or mixed seafood. The dish is flavorful and not spicy at all, but Thai eaters usually put in ground dried chili, vinegar, or lime juice to add extra kick to their dish.

3. Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)

Som Tam Green Papaya Salad
Thai green papaya salad, which in Thailand is known as as 'som tam' (ส้มตำ).

Som Tam or Green Papaya Salad is not actually a dish for everyone, but it is one of the most popular food in Thailand that every visitor should try at least once when they are in Thailand. The basic Som Tam contains shredded unripe papaya, tomatoes, dried shrimp, roasted peanuts, string beans, garlic, and is seasoned with fish sauce, sugar or palm sugar, lime juice, and chilies - so Som Tam tends to be quite spicy by default. The ingredients are mixed and pounded using a mortar and pestle.
You can find an extensive list of Som Tam styles, from easy level to more challenging. For example, ‘Som Tam Thai’ is quite friendly for beginners since the taste and smell are not too strong and it does not contain fermented fish or rice paddy crabs. ‘Som Tam Pu Pla Ra’ is the opposite as it combines Pla Ra (Fermented Fish) and rice paddy crabs which give it a very strong smell and flavor and commonly spicy. However, most Som Tam is made fresh and from scratch, so you can customize the ingredients and level of spiciness. If you cannot handle the spiciness well, try to remember the Thai word ‘Mai Pet (not spicy)’ or ‘Mai Sai Prik (don’t use any chili)’ when you order.

4. Kuai Tiao (Noodle Dishes)

Kuai Tiao is mainly sold by street vendors.
Kuai Tiao is mainly sold by street vendors.

Kuai Tiao in Thai usually refers to any type of noodle dishes, from stir-fried, dry, soup, or curry. The dish is very popular nationwide since it is an easy and budget meal for everyone, and you will find many variations of Kuai Tiao from street stalls - Kuai Tiao Nam Sai (Noodles with Clear Soup), Kuai Tiao Tom Yam (Noodles with Sour and Spicy Soup), Kuai Tiao Nam Tok or Kuai Tiao Ruea (Noodles with Spicy Soup Stock with Cow or Pig's Blood), Ba Mee Moo Deang (Egg Noodles with Barbeque Pork) are some popular examples.
The most common version of this dish is made with chicken, pork, or beef stock to make the broth, the customer can choose rice or egg noodles. Other ingredients like minced or sliced pork, chicken, beef, meat balls, dumplings, and bean sprouts or green vegetables will be added to the broth. Kuai Tiao is usually seasoned with sugar, fish sauce, ground pepper, and fried garlic. When served, Thai customers usually add some vinegar or lime juice and dried chili peppers as their own choices. Typically, noodles with clear soup give a mild smooth taste and not spicy, but if you see ‘Tom Yam’ or ‘Nam Tok’ these types of noodles tend to be spicy by default.

5. Gai Tod and Gai Yang (Fried Chicken and Grilled Chicken)

Gai Tod
Super crunchy and flavorful fried chicken.

These two chicken dishes may not sound uniquely Thai, but they are very popular around the country. But what makes Thai fried and grilled chicken outstanding? The secret lies in the locals’ marinade recipe, how they prepare, and the dipping sauce served with the chicken. Fried chicken is normally prepared by marinating chicken wings, thighs or drumsticks with fish or soy sauces, spices, and rice flour before deep frying the whole mixture.
Vendors like to add extra flavor by serving the dish with deep fried garlic or shallots, spicy or sweet dipping sauce. Gai Yang or grilled chicken is prepared by marinating chicken meat in chopped coriander roots, garlic, pepper, soy sauce, fish sauce, and palm sugar, then charcoal grilled the chicken. Vendors usually sell grilled chicken for the whole chicken, wings, thighs, drumsticks, or skewers, and usually served with Thai style dipping sauces or sweet chili sauces. The chicken itself is not spicy, but you can add a kick by the choice of dipping sauces. Both types of chicken are usually accompanied with a bag of sticky rice.

6. Khao Niao Moo Ping (Sticky Rice and Grilled Pork)

Khao Niao Moo Ping
Thai grilled pork on a skewer with sticky rice.

Grilled pork is another common street food you can find in almost every corner in the major cities of Thailand. It is usually sold with small bags of sticky rice and many Thai people like to have it as a quick and easy breakfast before work.
Most vendors try to make their food differently or uniquely, but the typical marinade mix are pepper, garlic, dark soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar, and the charcoal grilling leave the pork skewers some pleasant aroma and taste.

7. Khao Kha Moo (Braised Pork Leg on Rice)

Khao Kha Moo
Flavorful pork leg roast braised and then simmered in a broth.

Khao Kha Moo is a braised pork knuckle or trotter served over rice. The pork has been simmered in mixture of soy sauce, sugar, and five spice powder and cooked until juicy and tender.
It is often served with Chinese broccoli, boiled egg, a dipping sauce, fresh bird's eye chili peppers and cloves of garlic on the side.
The dish is flavorful, not spicy (unless you have the chili pepper on the side), simple to eat but quite a satisfying meal.

8. Pad Gra Prow (Thai Holy Basil Stir Fry)

Pad Gra Prow
Pad Gra Prow (ผัดกระเพราไก่) is a true Thai classic.

This is a very popular lunchtime dish in Thailand since it is quick, easy, and delicious. There is a joke among many Thai people that ‘Gra Prow Gai Kai Dao (Rice with Basil Stir-Fried Chicken and Fried Egg) is the default dish, they order it when they cannot think of anything else. Pad Gra Prow is a stir-fried dish of minced pork or chicken, Thai basil, and chilies, all served over streamed rice and a fried egg on top.
This dish is typically spicy with the bird-eye chili peppers, so do not forget to tell the vendors ‘Mai Sai Prik (don’t use any chili)’ or ‘Mai Phet (not spicy) when you order.

9. Massaman Gai (Massaman Chicken Curry)

Massaman Gai
Massaman curry is a rich, relatively mild Thai curry.

Here are some reasons why you should not miss this curry dish. Thai Massaman curry was ranked the No. 1 dish in the world’s 50 best foods list by CNN Travel in April 2021. CNN Travel said “Emphatically the king of curries, and perhaps the king of all foods. Spicy, coconutty, sweet and savory. Even the packet sauce you buy from the supermarket can make the most mediocre cook look like a Michelin potential. Thankfully, someone invented rice, with which diners can mop up the last drizzles of curry sauce. “The Land of Smiles” isn’t just a marketing catchline. It’s a result of being born in a land where the world’s most delicious food is sold on nearly every street corner.”
It is a popular lunchtime or dinner dish and typically served with hot streamed rice. Even if it is not too difficult to make, it takes time to prepare a good Massaman curry. However, when selling at street stalls, vendors usually make it ready to serve in a large hot pot. The curry is mild in heat and can tempt the palate of nearly everyone. At the food stalls, normally there are more than one curry dishes they offer, from Massaman, Green, Red or Panang curry and some stalls might have other options of food that you can order together with the curry.

10. Khao Khai Chiao (Omelette on Rice)

Khao Khai Chiao
Khai Chiao is generally regarded by the Thai people as a rice topper.

One of the simplest and cheapest dishes, but still a very satisfying meal, especially if you are vegetarian or do not have any ideas what to order. Thai omelets are made differently from the Western recipe, it is usually cooked with fish sauce and pepper and using rice barn or soybean oil to fry which make the egg crispy outside and fluffy inside. Most vendors also provide extra options and ingredients to add in like minced pork, shrimp, onion, carrots, or spring onion. It is usually served with steamed rice, fresh cucumber and Sriracha chili sauce.

Honorable Mention: Look Chin Ping and Look Chin Tod (Thai Grilled and Deep-fried Meatballs)

Look Chin Ping
Thai grilled meatball skewers served with chilli dip.

Look Chin Ping (Grilled Meatballs) and Look Chin Tod (Deep-Fried Meatballs) have been popular snacks among Thai people for a long time. Now they are even more popular and make international headlines after Thai K-pop star Lalisa “Lisa” Manoban of BLACKPINK mentioned she missed eating her favorite Thai meatballs from Buriram. She said, “The highlight is the dipping sauce found only in Buriram." Now you may want to try what Thai meatballs are like, and you don’t need to travel to Buriram because you can find it easily nearly everywhere in Thailand.
You will find a variety of meatballs, fish, pork, chicken, and sausage for very affordable prices. Most of the meatballs from street stalls are similar, what makes it different from others is the dipping sauces vendors use such as sweet sauce, chili sauce or super spicy sauce as their own recipes. And don’t worry, soon you can find ‘Lisa’s favorite Buriram dipping sauce’ in Bangkok as well.