A list of some of the best roadside eats to be found in the northern, northeastern, and southern regions of the kingdom.by Chawadee Nualkhair
Bangkok isn’t the only city to go to for great street food.
In the north, street food is characterized by Chinese and Burmese influences, frequently resulting in richer textures, heavier flavors, and a slow-building heat undercut by salt and a slight bitterness.
The most popular dishes to get here are:
1. Khao soi, also known as the curried noodle dish, incorporating egg noodles with your choice of protein and coconut milk.
2. Sai oua, the Northern Thai pork sausage seasoned with dried chilies, mahgrood lime leaves, shallots, garlic, lemongrass and plenty of turmeric.
3. Khanom jeen nam ngiew, a Mon-style fermented rice noodle dish slathered in a Bolognese-like pork or beef stew flavored with fermented soybeans and chilies
When something is delicious, it is called lum in the northern dialect.
In Isan (northeastern Thailand), Laotian and Vietnamese influences predominate. This means a lot of dishes (like kai kratha) still bear strong traces of their culinary ancestry. Here, strong, fiery, tangy, and salty flavors come to the forefront.
Isan food (grilled chicken, green papaya salad, sticky rice) is some of the most popular in the country. However, other dishes have so far eluded widespread attention. Some other must-try dishes here include:
1. Jaew hon (also known as jum jim), a Thai-style sukiyaki that uses an Isan-flavored broth that is especially spicy
2. Mieng pla, steamed or deep-fried fish that is wrapped up in lettuce leaves with rice vermicelli and herbs and dipped in a spicy chili sauce
3. Kai kratha, roughly translated to “egg in a pan,” a culinary import from Vietnam
The word for delicious in northeastern Thailand is saab.
The south is where some of the country’s most distinctive food can be found, thanks to Malaysian, Thai-Muslim, and Hokkien Chinese influences. On the island of Phuket, unusual dishes such as o-tao (oyster omelets topped with pork rinds) and mee pad Hokkien (Hokkien-style fried noodles with egg) are available, while the seaside towns of Cha-am and Hua Hin abound in Chinese-style soup noodles and old-fashioned Thai desserts.
You can find just about any kind of street food you can think of in the south, but some excellent choices here would include:
1. Khanom jeen nam ya, the slightly sour fermented rice noodle that, unlike in the north, is topped with a shredded fish or crabmeat coconut milk-based curry
2. Gai tod, or fried chicken, considered a specialty of southern Thailand and a delicious addition to any lunch or dinner alongside rice, soup and a curry
3. A Thai-style dessert involving some sort of dumpling floating in coconut milk such as khanom ko or kai thao (translated to “turtle’s eggs” because of their round appearance)
4. Khanom jeen stalls are always instantly recognizable by the sheer volume of garnishes on the table for each curry served. You will likely encounter fresh mango and/or cashew nut leaves, plus bean sprouts, sliced green beans and a motley collection of herbs, as well as pickled mustard greens and hard-boiled eggs at the very least
This article is an excerpt from Chawadee Nualkhair’s book, “Thailand’s Best Street Food,” published by Tuttle Publishing. Available in Asia Books and Kinokuniya for THB 495.