Most Thai food lovers focus on the manifold flavors and qualities inherent in the undoubtedly delicious cuisine. And part of the joy of eating Thai food in Thailand is consuming it like the locals; family style, in social groups. But look a little closer and you’ll notice a common characteristic in dining Thai style: Thailand’s food always seems to be on the go. Sold from street carts or carried home in tiffins, this is a mobile cuisine.
Here’s how to best experience true Thai food on the move...
Street carts: These mobile units are pushed, pulled, or carted to their operating location, where they’ll stay as long as they’re open. At one of Thailand’s fabulous night markets, filled with a minimum of dozens of eating options, you’ll find that most of the food comes from street carts. This design is particularly useful in night markets that are busy streets during the day; the carts can be shut down and wheeled away to another location. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/scaredy_kat)
Some of Thailand's best-known street food is in Chiang Mai, a city with an ongoing nightly bazaar, plus Saturday and Sunday night markets, and other small food markets scattered around town. Khao soi, or "Chiang Mai curry" is the perfect dish to sample and compare around the town.
Buckets and poles: At Bangkok's Chatuchak Weekend Market, one of the largest outdoor markets in the world, I watched an elderly lady squeeze through stalls and crowds, balancing a pole over her shoulders with two buckets at the end. Occasionally, a vendor would stop her and the woman would squat down and prepare som tam, a spicy green papaya salad. She wasn’t carrying prepared food; she actually made the salad to order each time!
You'll see individuals practically hobbling under a load balanced precariously across their shoulders, walking down city sidewalks. Some, like the woman at the market, have everything for a meal, while others are simply selling vegetables or other items.
Take-away: Food in Thailand is cheap — so cheap, in fact, that it’s almost less expensive for Thais to buy prepared food than make it themselves. For residents, to-go food is often carried in tiffins, stacked metal bowls that latch together and are easily carried. Drinks, especially soda but also coffee and tea, are taken in plastic bags sealed shut with a rubber band lashed tight around a straw. They’re easy to carry, if not very environmentally-friendly.
In the past, take-away food was wrapped in banana leaves and other biodegradable packaging. And though you’ll still see that kid of packaging from time to time, you’ll find that most of your take away food now comes in plastic or Styrofoam. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/scaredy_kat)
Bus service: Take a first-class, VIP bus and you’ll be treated to sugary snacks, cups of soda, and water. Note that you have a cup holder and tiny tray attached to the back of the seat in front of you — with a hook for your plastic bags of take-away food.
While you’re on the go in Thailand working up a thirst with mouth-watering street foods, stop by PB Valley winery by Khao Yai national park. Taste one of their award-winning wines before heading back out to a night market.
Catherine Bodry is the writer at WhyGoThailand, a BootsnAll travel guide. She’s also a curry lover and trail runner. One of her guilty pleasures is drinking cold soda from a plastic bag on a hot Thai day.