A typical greeting in Thailand is “Gin khao lou mai?” which literally translates as “Have you eaten rice yet?” It makes sense in a country where food is so central to both daily life and cultural identity. Bangkokians snack constantly and tend to have strong opinions about where to dine. With so many stellar choices ranging from dirt-cheap street eats to sophisticated tasting menus, it’s not hard to see why.
Where to splash out
Bangkok has a phenomenal fine dining scene, which includes Michelin-starred eateries such as Bo.lan, Paste, and Nahm, all of which showcase thoughtful, contemporary Thai cooking. For more experimental spins on the country’s cuisine, try Le Du, which serves innovative tasting menus from two of Thailand’s most ambitious young chefs, or 80/20, which focuses on rare, locally sourced ingredients from the Thai countryside.
Where to eat on the street
It’s no secret that some of the best food in Bangkok comes out of humble shophouse kitchens and street carts. Raan Jay Fai, which serves spectacular crab omelettes and seafood dishes, is so renowned it has a Michelin star. Skip the vendors on touristy Khao San Road, which serve greasy, tasteless plates of noodles to backpackers, and head instead to Yaowarat Road in Chinatown or Soi Convent in Silom for the best eats.
Phrases to remember when ordering street food
You don’t need to be fluent in Thai to enjoy Bangkok’s street food. Men should punctuate the end of each sentence with “krap,” while women should use the feminine “ka.”
Mai sai moo/gai/nua/goong haeng krap/ka.
I would like it without pork/chicken/beef/dried shrimp.
Nee tao rai krap/ka?
How much does this cost?
Mai aow pet krap/ka.
I do not want spicy food.
Aow pet nit noi krap/ka.
I would like it a little spicy.
Aroi mai?/Aroi mak!
Is it delicious?/It is very delicious!
Aow som tum gai yang sai khao niao krap/ka.
I would like papaya salad and grilled chicken with sticky rice.
Aow moo ping nueng/song/sam krap/ka.
I would like one/two/three glazed pork skewers.
Aow bahn mee/sen yai/sen lek moo/gai krap/ka.
I would like yellow wheat noodles/wide rice noodles/thin rice vermicelli with pork/chicken. Note: These noodles will be served with soup, unless you order yours haeng, or “dry.”
Krap khun krap/ka.
Five Thai dishes you absolutely must try
There’s much more to Thai street cuisine than pad thai. Don’t miss these exceptionally delicious staples.
Khao Mok Gai (Thai-style chicken biryani)
While vendors serving plain khao man gai, or Hainanese-style chicken rice, are far more common, it’s well-worth seeking out this turmeric-stained variation. Cumin and a host of other spices perfume both the bone-in meat and the toothsome grains of rice.
Hoi Tod (oyster omelette)
Most street carts serving pad thai also specialise in hoi tod, an addictive mess of egg, rice flour, and freshly shucked oysters fried on a large griddle. Slather yours with hot sauce and wolf the whole thing down.
Guay Tiew Ruea (boat noodles)
Squeamish diners might flinch at the ladle of pig’s blood added to these soupy noodles, but it gives the broth an incomparable depth and richness. The name “boat noodles” comes from the way vendors in wooden watercraft once plied the canals of Bangkok and Ayutthaya serving up savoury bowls garnished with fresh herbs and bean sprouts.
Khanom Jeen (fresh rice noodles with assorted curries)
Delicate, slightly sticky khanom jeen noodles are both tasty and one of the easiest dishes for international travellers to order. Simply point to any of the accompanying curries—gaeng keow wan (green curry) is always a good choice—and pile on herbs and vegetables.
Khao Kha Moo (pork leg with rice)
This sumptuous dish of fatty pork leg slow-braised with soy and star anise is so fragrant you can smell it down the block and so tender you can eat it with a spoon. Put an egg on it by ordering yours “sai kai.”