I love Thai food, but then again so does most of the world. Fresh and fragrant, famous for its balance of sweet, sour, bitter and salty, a visit to Thailand is as much about the food as it is about the country.
There is enough variety and food experiences from buzzing local markets to posh culinary schools, restaurants and street markets to keep every kind of person sated. In fact there is a lot of merit in following your nose and the rumbles of your tummy and discovering Thailand through its food.
Thai street food is well-known and an experience that really shouldn’t be missed. It’s a chance to enjoy authentic food at incredible prices, to eat what the locals eat, and soak up an experience that is at the heart of the country.
Don’t hesitate or be put off by the inelegant surrounds, just dive in and breathe the heady aromas of frying meats, steaming soup and noodles and let your taste buds decide the rest.
What to Eat
Street vendors will have all the classics from Som Tam or raw papaya salad, Kaprao Moo Grob or crispy pork belly and holy basil, Isaan sausage (pork with sticky rice), Pla Pao or grilled fish stuffed with pandanus leaves, lemongrass and grilled over charcoal, and of course a variety of pad or noodles, pork and chicken skewers and soups, including the fragrant and fiery Tom Yum or hot & sour soup. For dessert there is the delicious mango with sticky rice flavored in coconut milk, sugar and salt and cold coconut milk to wash it all down.
Bangkok’s Old Town also known as Banglamphu is a treasure trove of famous vendors and old-style Thai street food specialties, and of course no homage to street food is complete without a visit to Chinatown. Another option is saphan luang or the Yellow Bridge neighborhood which has long been known among locals as a street food highlight.
A loud outcry followed news the Bangkok government was banning the city’s beloved street food, but happily, the Tourism Authority of Thailand say it’s staying put.
A visit to the floating markets on the ‘klongs’ (canals) of Bangkok offers a glimpse into a slice of local culture that is centuries old. The trick is to get there early before the crowds begin to watch the traders barter their produce of fresh fruit, vegetables and flowers.
It is also an opportunity to sample traditional food including ‘boat noodles’, desserts like deep fried bananas and crispy pancakes. There is loads of seafood to be had including scallops, shrimp, crispy noodles with tamarind sauce or spicy fish cakes. Not to mention the fresh fruit, especially local delights like durian, rambutan and the divine mangosteen. It’s easy to go overboard because the food is so delicious and inexpensive.
Some of the weekend floating markets in Bangkok are Kwan Riam on Saen Saeb Canal, while The Damnoen Saduak floating market is one of the biggest and most famous floating market in the country, and makes for an excellent addition to travel through Thailand. Throughout the week there is also the Wat Sai floating market in Bangkok’s Chom Thong district.
Thai hospitality is world renowned and the country boasts some truly opulent five star and boutique accommodation attracting the discerning traveler in search of an amazing experience. Many of these establishments offer cooking classes where the finer nuances of Thai cuisine and presentation are taught by top-of-the-line chefs.
Most Thai cooking classes begin with a tour to purchase the many exotic ingredients that are used in Thai cooking. Leaders from reputable Thai cooking schools will also explain the ingredients and the substitute ingredients you can find in your home grocery store!
Increasingly travelers seeking food tours are combining holidays with Thai cooking courses. From Bangkok to Chiang Mai in the north and Koh Samui and Phuket in the south there are a number of cooking schools that offer personalized courses for individuals and groups, ranging from a day to a few days. From the Four Seasons Cooking School in Chiang Mai, or the Blue Elephant Cooking School in the heart of Bangkok to smaller independent establishments like Thai Orchid Cookery School in Chiang Mai there is a school for every aspiring chef or gourmand.
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Photo credits: Featured photo by Wayne S. Grazio. Street food from above & cooking Pad Thai by Nicolas Mirguet. Street food on khao san road by Roslyn. Floating market by Wayne S. Grazio. Can Tho Floating Markets by Hugh Derr via Flickr.