One thing is for sure: Thai people love to eat, and they love their street food. No matter what time of the day or where you are, more likely than not you will find odd motorbike systems working as restaurants, grills, shaved ice or smoothie bars along the streets of different cities, villages and motorways. These mobile two wheel ancestors of food trucks offer the most authentic local food you can find, but another viable option to stop the stomach rumble and get your fix on local feed is to hit the copious markets.

Moped in front of 7 Eleven selling snacks

People at Phuket Night Market

 

Almost in all cities and villages (at least those I've visited), there is a night market functioning either every night or only on weekends.
Each and every time I had the chance to visit, I was like a kid at a theme park - so much to see and experience! So many intriguing smells, odd dishes, mouth-watering dishes, and everything in between. On pretty much each visit I indulged in coconut ice cream with free toppings (my go to mix: peanuts, taro, sweet potato, sticky rice). I wish there was coconut ice cream so readily available everywhere!

Making tiny "Thai tacos"


How To Pick What To Eat

There are many tactics I have honed over my visits in markets over the years. The following have proven to be the most satisfying:

Take your time and snack around.

Buy small portions of what seems intriguing, and build your meal around various things. This tactic works well when it’s a big market and you simply can’t choose from all the yumminess you have around you.

Fresh sweet corn in snack size portions

Pickled green mango and other local curiosities

 

See everything before choosing. 

If you are not seriously starving, work your appetite by walking by all the vendors, taking in your options and seeing what’s on the menu.

Good luck trying to figure out the ingredients of these pots

Happy kitchen staff

 

Go with popularity.

If a place is especially crowded, they most likely serve good food. Popularity is also a sign of rotation in ingredients, which means less risk for bugs to thrive and people getting sick. While you cannot expect the hygiene level to be up to the Western standard, you can try to find the place that looks the cleanest.

Ladies making banana roti at 7am

Making of som tum with a whole lot of plastic



If You Try Just One...


Try mango sticky rice. Mango sticky rice might be the most popular Thai dessert. Loads of sugary goodness, at the same time satisfying and fresh, mango sticky rice is an easy introduction to the Thai sweets, most of which seem incomprehensible to Westerners.

Restaurant portion of mango sticky rice

 

*Note: while Thai food can be very fresh and nourishing (copious amounts of fresh fruit and salads), chances are your meals contain heaps of (palm) sugar, (palm) oil, soy sauce and fish sauce, with an addition of MSG on occasion. If you are strictly vegan or allergic, you might have some challenges trying to find a meal that suits your diet. Besides soy sauce, gluten free food is fairly easy to find, although it is not specially advertised. I decided to throw (most of) my restrictions to the bin for my holiday, and just do my best in terms of eating. Probiotic capsules and digestive enzymes were a great help in this!

Roasting bananas next to a highway


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