Operation Street Food – Day 1 (Food Safety)

Preparing my lunch
Preparing my lunch
My first day of street food went surprisingly well. I focused on grilled meat products because….well…it was easy to order. Here is how the day broke down:

  • Breakfast – 3 pieces of chicken satay. 15 baht (US$0.45)
  • Lunch – 3 grilled chicken wings and chopped grilled pork. 40 baht ($1.21)
  • Dinner – Chicken with rice, soup and a mango/sticky rice desert and a sprite. 140 bhat ($4.24)

The first thing that should jump out at you is that street food is REALLY cheap. I’m sure if I could speak Thai, could hunt around for deals and haggle, I might be able to pay less. For less than the cost of a Big Mac value meal, you can eat for a day if you stick to the streets. My dinner was actually sort of extravagant and I could have easily eaten for only 40 baht

My dinner
My dinner
The second thing that should jump out at you is that I mostly ate meat. This is primarily due to the fact that I hit the streets at lunch and breakfast at a time when not a lot of vendors were out. Also, some of the stands which seemed to serve more types of food didn’t have any signs in English so I didn’t have a clue what to order. This is something I’ll rectify in the days to come. I’ve gotten some great tips from people on Twitter about where to go and what to try for street food in Bangkok.

I’m not a foodie and really don’t know too much about Thai food. I usually just let the cook order for me when I eat out, and it almost always works. The downside is that I usually have no clue the name or the ingredients of what I’m eating.

Dessert: Mango with sticky rice
Dessert: Mango with sticky rice
I also thought I’d address the issue of food safety today because it is usually the first thing people raise when the subject of street food comes up. People have a fear of the unknown, and food prepared in a foreign country on a street corner immediately brings up thoughts of food poisoning. I can tell you first hand that street food is safe.

Street food is about as dangerous as a backyard BBQ.

The preparation, sanitary conditions are about the same as you would find cooking on a grill or tailgating. It isn’t like locals are immune to food poisoning. They have every incentive to keep things clean as people in western countries do. Several times in just the few days I’ve been here, I’ve seen people washing dishes at their stall. Every street vendor I’ve seen packages their food in plastic bags or styrofoam boxes, just like a real restaurant.

If you find yourself in Bangkok, for goodness sake eat some food on the street. There is little risk and it is a quintessential Bangkok experience.

I also want to give a shout out to Gregg from GreggToDiffer.com and Akila and Patrick from TheRoadForks.com who I had dinner with tonight. It was great fun. Please check out their blogs.

17 thoughts on “Operation Street Food – Day 1 (Food Safety)”

  1. I like Thailand! The mangoes and sticky rice are among my favorites there. And I love tom yum! Great article here!

  2. The streetfood in Thailand is super, I have no doubts about eating from the street stalls in Thailand and Malaysia – that’s food they know how to prepare. I am far more careful with “european” food in that part of the world, anything with mayo etc – thats not what they are experts on and you can get SO ill eating poorly prepared food with for example mayo.
    I wrote a little about it in my blog too, after my last Thainland trip.

  3. I did 10 weeks in South Asia eating streetfood now and then. No problem.

    My dad spent one night in Delhi and ate at a 5-star restaurant. He had Delhi-belly for a week afterwards.

  4. I love that you can eat for so cheap and get such a great variety. I’m pleasantly surprised by the sanitation practices as well, because in some places I’ve been, I’ve had some mean food poisoning from street food. It’s a learning experience I guess, plus I shed a few pounds in the process. He he

  5. I wholeheartedly agree re: streetfood. I ate Malaysian streetfood for 2 weeks straight with no issues. One meal in a “fancy” (a.k.a. expensive) Hong Kong restaurant and I was ill all night.

  6. I will make one caveat to that story. Meat is safe to eat **IF** it is cooked piping hot recently.

    As somebody who spent a week attempting to avoid hospital after a chicken kebab in Morocco from a street vendor, I can tell you that not all street food is safe. I went to a clinic that specialises in travel vaccines etc when I got back to Australia and they set me straight about that one. :(

    That being said, I never had any problems wit the street food in Bangkok – in fact I still dream about getting back there for the street food!

  7. Gary, GreggToDiffer.com is flagged by Google Chrome and AVG as an exploit site.
    If that is the correct URL… someone needs to let him know that either he is transmitting a false-positive or his site has been taken over because of inadequate security.

  8. Agreed! Thanks for a wonderful critique. I’m with you – go try it! Street food in Bangkok (and, simply based on my other two experiences in Chiang Mai and Phuket, seemingly all over Thailand) is absolutely fabulous. Most of things I ate I can’t tell you the name of because lacking any Thai language skills but “hello” and “thank you,” I used the method of pointing to order. But it was great – dough balls, pad thai, satays, noodles, fruit drinks, grilled vegetables from a rolling cart… From curries and coconut milk to noodles and Thai beer, we absolutely ate and drank our way through Thailand. My favorite rule of thumb for street food is to go with your gut. If it looks good and someone’s digging around in it with blatantly dirty hands, why not give it a try? You will be rewarded with many pleasurable bites.

  9. This was enjoyable to read, I had forgot that people worry about street food. When I was first in Mexico 12 years ago people would carry bottles of chloro for vegetable. I believe watching food being cooked is safer than the cook hiding in the kitchen using week old food.

    But what do I know?

    • You hit upon the golden rule of street food. Watch it being cooked in front of you. If it is pre cooked, don’t be ashamed to ask the vendor to put it back on the grill for a minute. So long as you can watch it being cooked, and it is cooked to your satisfaction, then there isn’t much to worry about.

      There is a good argument to be made that there is more danger from some fruits and drinks than there is from eating cooked meat on the street.

  10. The food you got looks great!

    It brings back memories for me — I spent 6 months in Bangkok and ate nothing but Thai food the whole time. Culinary heaven!

    I highly recommend the standard “Easarn” (north eastern Thailand) meal of Som Tam (green papaya salad), along with a grilled cat fish and/or grilled chicken.

    Also, don’t miss having a pad thai (mix in a lot of sugar and dried chili pepper!). Another favorite of mine was “pad grapao kai” which is stir fried chicken with chili peppers and basil leaves over plain rice. Great for breakfast with a fried egg over it, along with an “oliang” — iced coffee, which is strong and sweet.

    Funny fact: the vegetable in the soup you had for dinner is a kind of gourd with no name in English and called “fuk” (pronounced “f*ck”) in Thai.

    I’m looking forward to following your food adventures this whole week.

  11. WOW … can’t wait to eat like that and spend less in a week than I currently spend on groceries here in Canada!

  12. Oh man, I’ll be reading these posts and drooling. I LOVE street food. Fresh, fantastic, cheap! Wish it was more acceptable and common in the US. Ah well.

  13. I couldn’t agree more with your comments on hygiene. The “health and safety” nonsense we have here in the UK is more an excuse to keep bureaucrats in jobs than it is in any way a concern for our welfare.

    I’m a fairly picky eater, though far better than I was when I started travelling. Like yourself I’m often afraid to just pick randomly as I often don’t know what I’m getting and it’s a waste if I don’t like it!

    If you fancy something a bit different, there’s a guy who used to do insects from a cart every evening up near the Bull’s Head pub/Custard Nakamura bakery. It’s off Phrom Phong BTS – walk towards the Robin Hood and go up that street. I can’t guarantee he’s still there though!

  14. Damn, that looks tasty. Not to mention being priced right. I absolutely love street food! Can’t wait to see what surprises and delciious delights you get into.

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