This will be my first time in South East Asia, a world with endless culinary possibilities. High on my bucket list is trying the mysterious smelly fruit, the Durian. I promise to give you a full description of my experience.
I’m packing light and returning with a heavy load of spices and a special pan for cooking quail eggs and Japanese Takoyaki.
Bangkok is a street food heavyweight; one can eat well in the city without ever setting foot inside a restaurant.
The street food scene in Bangkok is an integral part of the culture and locals know that the cuisine you’ll find on the sidewalk is often the tastiest.
Bangkok street food culture is built around the Thai habit of eating many small meals throughout the day.
The sheer variety of street food options in Bangkok can be overwhelming — from fried noodles to creamy coconut and tropical fruit desserts — but those who choose to indulge are amply rewarded.
Despite the name, there¹s nothing “ew” about this dish.
1. Pad see ew
Fresh rice noodles are stir-fried with Chinese broccoli and dark soy sauce to make pad see ew, a dish that’s considered comfort food by many Thais. The wide, flat noodles are added to a protein or two — in Bangkok it’s usually chicken or pork and a fried egg — and cooked on a sizzling hot wok.
You can try to make this at home, but it will never be as good as what you get on the streets of Bangkok.
Try it at: Ran Guay Jab Jaedang, Ratchawithi Road, Bangkok
Shredded papaya, chili, som tom … if only every salad were this exciting.
2. Som tam
Many travelers have found themselves unable to leave Thailand due to a serious som tam addiction. The refreshing salad made from unripe green papaya is similar to dishes found in Cambodia and Laos, but the Thai versions, like som tam Thai, a mild, sweeter variation with peanuts, are better known. The combination of sour, sweet, salty and spicy makes for an unbeatable afternoon snack.
Try it at: Sukhumvit 38, Bangkok
As long as the pork is this good, the tiny stick industry will never suffer.
3. Moo ping
Often served with sticky rice, these grilled pork skewers are a fragrant, smoky and inexpensive snack.
Pork that’s been marinated with tangy fish sauce and cilantro is brushed with rich, creamy coconut milk while being grilled over hot coals.
You can easily find mu ping vendors by searching for the clouds of garlicky, porky smoke coming from their grills. Moo ping is often served with a spicy chili dipping sauce called jaew.
Try it at: Sukhumvit 38, Bangkok
Nowadays, most bowls of Thai boat noodles are served on dry land.
4. Boat noodles
Guay teow rhua, a flavorful Thai noodle dish, was traditionally sold by vendors in boats who paddled down Thailand’s many canals.
Nowadays, boat noodles are a popular street food in Bangkok, served with morning glory, pork blood, bean sprouts and pieces of pork or beef.
The bowls are cheap and tiny, allowing patrons to order several and try different meat and noodle combinations.
Try it at: Boat noodle alley, Victory Monument, Bangkok
“Poo” is Thai for “crab,” which some Thai English menus sometimes render as “crap.” Be not afraid.
5. Khao pad poo
It might not sound exciting, but the fried rice you get in Thailand is a world apart from what you’re used to.
Khao pad, or fried rice, is made with fragrant Jasmine rice and the ubiquitous Thai fish sauce. Poo is fresh crab, and crab fried rice is cooked in a sizzling hot wok with a scrambled egg and topped with cilantro and fresh lime. The result is moist, fluffy and delicious.
Try it at: Naay Mong, 539 Thanon Phlapplaachai, Bangkok
Air-dried pork. Tastes better than it looks.
6. Moo dad diew
A dish that is best accompanied by cold beer, moo dad diew is pork that’s been marinated in a dark soy sauce with crushed coriander root and fish sauce, then air-dried in the sun until it has a jerky-like texture. Later, it’s deep fried and served with a dry-roasted ground chili sauce. The fatty, spicy combination is the perfect Bangkok booze food.
Think of it as cold spaghetti.
7. Kanom jeen
Served at room temperature, this dish of noodles made from fermented rice is the perfect breakfast or refreshing early afternoon snack. The noodles, called kanom jeen, are topped with a curry, or gang.
There are many varieties of curry for kanom jeen, including chicken and fish, all of them appetizing. It’s served with crisp fresh vegetables, lightly pickled cucumbers and other pickles and blanched greens.
Try it at: Ko Lun, Thanon Mahanop, Bangkok
Dessert in a glass.
8. Cha yen
You can find cha yen, or iced tea, in Thai restaurants all over the world, but it always tastes better in Thailand, where it’s usually served in a plastic bag with a straw.
Cha yen is strong black tea flavored with star anise and crushed tamarind seeds, which give the drink its unique reddish-orange hue.
The tea is served over ice with sweet condensed milk and topped with a floater of evaporated milk for extra creamy goodness.
Try it at: Or Tor Kor Market, Kamphaeng Phet Road, Bangkok
So delicious you’d arm wrestle your grandma for the last bite. Well, we’d arm wrestle your grandma for it.
9. Khao niew ma muang
It may not sound like much, but khao niew ma muang is one of the most perfect food combinations in the world.
It’s glutinous sticky rice paired with fresh sweet mango and drizzled with rich coconut cream. Widely available in Bangkok when mangoes are in season, khao niew ma muang is sometimes topped with peanuts, toasted sesame seeds or fried salty mung beans.
Try it at: Thonglor Night Market, Sukhumvit Soi 38, Bangkok
Coconut pudding topped with fried shallots. Sounds crazy, but it works.
10. Khanom krok
A simple yet delicious Thai dessert, kanom krok is best described as coconut pudding, made by cooking a mixture of flour batter and coconut cream over a charcoal fire. The snack is often served with crispy fried shallots on top, a tasty contrast to the rich flavor of the coconut.
Try it at: Or Tor Kor Market, Kamphaeng Phet Road, Bangkok
Hanoi and its environs are the birthplace of many quintessential Vietnamese dishes, such as pho and bun cha, and the city is often cited as one of the world’s great food capitals.
It’s a street eater’s paradise, with a plethora of options for those who want to eat like a local. In fact, many swear that the best food in Hanoi is found on the sidewalk, with dishes that often feature fish sauce, lemongrass, chilies, and cilantro and other fresh herbs.
The city, which celebrated its one-thousandth birthday last year, has put those centuries to good use perfecting its curbside nibbles.
Although vendors often cook in small shop fronts, they serve their wares on the sidewalk, on small plastic tables and chairs that can seem woefully inadequate for overgrown foreigners.
Voted Vietnam’s tastiest pork. By the guy who wrote this caption.
1. Bun cha
Possibly the most delicious food available to man, bun cha is the lunch of choice all over Hanoi.
Pork patties and slices of pork belly are grilled over hot coals and served with fish sauce, tangy vinegar, sugar and lime, which, when combined, creates a sort of barbecue soup that is eaten with rice vermicelli and fresh herbs.
Accompanied by deep-fried spring rolls, this calorically rich dish is served with garlic and chilies on the side for an extra kick.
Try it at: Bun Cha, 34 Hang Than, Hanoi
A true world traveler, born in Hanoi.
As the birthplace of pho, Hanoi is ground zero for the fragrant rice noodle soup served with fresh herbs that has become popular all over the world. It’s no surprise, then, that Hanoi’s pho is outstanding. Two variations are most popular: pho ga (with chicken) and pho bo (with beef). Pho is traditionally served as a breakfast food, so you’ll find pho sellers all over town from before dawn to mid-morning.
Try it at: Pho 112, 112 Van Phuc, Ba Dinh, Hanoi
Even without the purple shrimp paste (really) it’s delicious.
3. Bun rieu cua
Freshwater crabs flavor this tangy tomato soup that’s made with round rice vermicelli and topped with pounded crabmeat, deep-fried tofu and, often, congealed blood. An odoriferous purple shrimp paste is offered on the side — it tastes delicious.
Chilies and fresh herbs are the finishing touches for a complete one-dish meal.
Try it at: 11 Hang Bac St, Old Quarter, Hanoi
In Hanoi, where there’s smoke, there’s flavor.
4. Barbecue chicken
Ly Van Phuc is its official name, but the place is colloquially known as “Chicken Street” in honor of the tasty poultry being barbecued up and down this crowded alley.
Grilled chicken wings and feet, sweet potatoes and bread that’s been brushed with honey before being grilled are served with chili sauce and pickled cucumbers in sweet vinegar.
The simple, enticing menu is nearly identical for all the vendors on the street.
Try it at: Pho Ly Van Phuc, Hanoi
Rib-sticking breakfast to go.
5. Sticky rice
In the morning you’ll find the sticky rice vendors out hawking their wares. Sticky rice is a hugely popular carb-rich breakfast food that comes wrapped in a banana leaf. There are dozens of variations on the dish.
One is served with crushed peanuts and sesame salt, another involves white corn and deep-fried shallots.
Try it at: Street Xoi, 6 Hang Bac St, Old Quarter, Hanoi
So good, they drank it before we could take a picture.
6. Iced coffee
Coffee was brought to Vietnam by the French and is, along with baguettes, one of their lasting culinary legacies. Beans are grown in Vietnam and roasted, often with lard, before being ground and served in single-serving metal filters.
Drinking a cup of cafe nau da, iced coffee with condensed milk, on a busy side street is one of Hanoi’s great pleasures.
Try it at: Cafe Nang, So 6 Hang Bac, Hanoi
Can “rolls” be square? In Hanoi, yes.
7. Nem cua be
You can find many types of excellent spring rolls all over Vietnam, but nem cua be, made with fresh crab meat, are particularly good. Unlike regular spring rolls, they are wrapped into a square shape before being fried.
Nem cua be are a specialty of Hai Phong, a seaside town not far away, but are fantastic in Hanoi as well.
Try it at: Nem Vuong Pho Co, 58 Dao Duy Tu, Old Quarter, Hanoi
Vietnam’s take on Chinese congee.
8. Chao ca
Toast has nothing on chao ca, so if you’re looking for a satisfying breakfast in Hanoi, why not try a steaming bowl of fish porridge?
Like Chinese congee, it’s a rice gruel made by cooking down the grains until they are nearly liquid. In Hanoi, it’s most often served with green onion, sprigs of dill and slivers of ginger.
Try it at: Doan Xom Chao Ca, 213 Hang Bang, Hanoi
The city’s “goopiest” snack.
9. Banh cuon
Banh cuon is a Northern Vietnamese dish that migrated to Hanoi. Thin steamed rice flour pancakes filled with minced pork and cloud ear mushrooms are served with nuoc cham, a fish-sauce-based dipping sauce, fried shallots and fresh herbs. Slightly goopy in texture, banh cuon are often eaten for breakfast or as an evening pick-me-up.
Try it at: Thanh Van Banh Cuon, 14 Hang Ga, Old Quarter, Hanoi
Pairs well with rice wine. But you can do it straight.
10. Muc nuong
There’s no greater pleasure than drinking on a busy Hanoi sidewalk, and what better to nosh on at while you do than muc nuong? Dried squid is grilled over hot coals before being shredded and served with a spicy sauce. It’s a chewy treat that is best washed down with shots of rice wine.
Try it at: Muc Nuong, 36 Hang Bo, Old Quarter, Hanoi
Cambodians like to snack throughout the day, so it’s no surprise their capitol is teeming with street-food choices.
Depending on what time it is, you’ll find scores of different types of street cuisine being sold by roving vendors or at stationary street stalls that cook on small charcoal grills.
The local markets are also a good source of Khmer snacks, particularly Central, Kandal and Orussei, as well as the streets around the city’s many schools and universities.
Breakfast time and early evenings are particularly busy, as hungry students flood the streets, looking for fried noodles, Cambodian sandwiches and sweet treats.
A classic with a Cambodian twist.
1. Num pang
Baguettes are a lasting legacy of the French colonization of Cambodia — as in Vietnam, they are used for street-side sandwiches that are filled with a mixture of Eastern and Western ingredients.
In Phnom Penh the sandwiches are filled with pate, butter or homemade mayonnaise, spicy red chili paste, crunchy pickled green papaya and carrot and a type of pork bologna and served with soy sauce and fish sauce on the side.
Try it at: Outside Kandal Market, Street 5, Phnom Penh
Breakfast that travels to you.
2. Nom banh chok
This popular breakfast food is often called the Cambodian national dish.
It’s usually sold by women carrying the ingredients in baskets hanging from a pole balanced on their shoulders.
The noodles are made from fermented rice and topped with aromatic green fish curry gravy, flavored with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and turmeric root. Fresh herbs, bean sprouts, banana flower and cucumber are added for a pleasant, refreshing crunch.
Try it at: Russian Market, Street 440, Phnom Penh
Eat at your own risk.
3. Num plae ai
These yummy small, round rice dumplings are filled with liquid caramelized palm sugar and topped with fresh coconut shavings.
They’re sometimes called nom somlap pdey, or “dessert that kills your husband,” because the smooth, chewy texture makes num plae ai easy to choke on if you eat them too fast!
Try it at: Top of street 258 and Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh
Get in early.
4. Bai sach chrouk
Bai sach chrouk, or grilled pork with rice, is a simple and delicious breakfast food sold by numerous Phnom Penh street vendors, who usually sell out by 8:30 every morning.
Thinly sliced pork that’s been marinated in coconut milk or garlic is grilled slowly over warm coals.
It’s served over steamed rice, sometimes with a fried egg, a side of freshly pickled daikon radish and cucumber, and a dab of spicy chili paste.
Try it at: Kandal Market, Street 5, Phnom Penh
Ask for the food and drink combo.
5. Coconut water
Vendors walk around Phnom Penh with carts piled high with young, green coconuts. They slice the tops off to order so customers can drink the coconut water with a straw. Cambodians believe that coconut water is extremely healthy, and many locals try to drink a coconut every day.
Once you’re finished, you can ask the vendor to slice the coconut open so you can access the flesh inside.
Try it at: Sihanouk Boulevard and Street 51, Phnom Penh
Made to order.
6. Fresh fruit
One of the simplest but most delicious street foods that Phnom Penh has to offer is fresh ripe fruit. Vendors sell juicy pineapple, papaya, dragonfruit, watermelon, guava and green mango out of glass cases.
When you order, they’ll offer to cut the fruit into bite-sized pieces, which are eaten with a wooden skewer, and sprinkle it with entirely unnecessary MSG, sugar and chili.
Try it at: Top of street 258 and Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh
Keeps the kids happy.
7. Mi char
Fried noodles are popular with students looking for an afternoon snack once school lets out.
Most noodle sellers carry a few options in their cart — instant noodles from ramen packages, soft yellow egg noodles, or short, thick rice noodles.
They’re stir-fried in fish sauce and soy sauce with beef and greens, and usually a fried egg is added to the equation. Most Cambodians choose to eat mi char with mild, sweet chili sauce.
Try it at: Central Market, Street 53, Phnom Penh
8. Kuy teav
You’ll find similar noodle soups in Vietnam and Thailand, but kuy teav is believed to have originated with Chinese immigrants in Cambodia.
Whatever its origins, the soup is a hearty breakfast made with pork or beef broth and thin rice noodles, and topped with fried shallots, green onions and crunchy bean sprouts. Sometimes the soup will also contains prawns, beef balls or pork liver and is served with red chili sauce with vinegar and sugar.
Try it at: Across from Pencil, Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh
Eat with beer.
9. Ngeav chamhoy
Cockles steamed with chilies, fragrant lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal are an enticing late-night snack sold street-side and by roving vendors pushing carts with portable steamers.
Ngeav is the Khmer word for a type of native clam known as the blood cockle due to its red color, caused by hemoglobin similar to that in human blood.
Ngeav chamhoy taste best accompanied by a spicy chili sauce and washed down with a cold beer.
Try it at: Street 13, Phnom Penh
Things are bound to get messy.
10. Num sang khya l’peou
This treat is as tasty as it is impressive. A pumpkin’s seeds are removed and then it’s filled with egg yolks, palm sugar and coconut milk. The top is put back on and the whole thing is steamed for half an hour.
When it’s done, it’s sliced to best show off the contrasting orange pumpkin flesh filled with smooth, creamy custard.
Try it at: Orussei Market, Street 182, Phnom Penh