It’s easy to be overwhelmed when entering a foreign country for the first time. When I landed in Bangkok, I was a little intimated by its sheer size, the difference in culture, and most importantly, the variety of street food. Since Bangkok has a reputation for the most authentic street food culture in the world, the trip allowed me to explore street food beyond my comfort zone.
Everyone who has ever eaten pad thai thinks they’ve tried Thai food, but the food served at your local restaurant is nothing like the real thing. Authentic Thai dishes are much more pungent, complex, and flavorful than their U.S. counterparts.
Enhanced by quality and the use of fish sauce, shrimp paste, and fermented mussels, real Thai food has marked differences from Americanized Thai food. When I watched an elderly lady prepare my first Thai meal of noodle-free pad thai at the Amphawa floating market, I knew I was experiencing a new level of cuisine.
Part of being adventurous with food is using all of your senses to experience it. This was easy to do in Bangkok; the sights, sounds, and tastes were much different from I was used to.
The aromas of Bangkok’s food varied in pungency, too. The smell of spices pervaded the streets of the city, the aroma of fermented sour sausages wafted from vendors’ shops, and no matter where I went, the raw fish and meat sold at floating markets left a trail of unforgettable odors. To say my nose was overwhelmed is an understatement!
Some scents were much more pleasant than others (not many enjoy the stench of sun-cured raw fish or meat), but it was all part of the adventure. My overloaded senses were a teaser for the real meal. And let’s get one thing straight: street food in Bangkok is as real as food gets.
Trying the Thai
When we decided to try the food (rather than just smell it!), we ventured to the floating markets, where the vendors on each long boat were preparing dishes as if they had a full kitchen at their disposal. We tried the green papaya salad and noodle-free pad thai — two familiar Thai dishes you can often get in America. But I wanted to explore the scene even more and try a dish that sustained the locals, so we ventured on.