Eating street food in Thailand is a great way to truly immerse yourself into the Thai experience! If you’re like me, you’re probably wondering if it’s safe to eat.
Dallas and Aimee grew up in California eating typical American foods like pizza, steak, Wonder bread, ramen noodles, and McDonald’s. Dallas has a high tolerance for spicy food (see above) while Aimee has almost NO tolerance for spicy food. So how did they successfully eat street food in Thailand for 2 weeks without ever getting sick? Check out the list below on how to eat street food and stay healthy and happy.
Before your trip, check out the things nobody tells you about Thailand and what to do before you leave. Avoid the 7 deadly sins of international travel, learn what to pack and not pack for Thailand, decide if you need travel insurance, and see how easy is to communicate in English.
Why Street Food>Restaurant Food in Thailand
In America, restaurants are checked out by the city and given A-F grades based on how sanitary and well-equipped their kitchen is. In Thailand, this doesn’t seem to be a thing.
This means that a street food cart on the side of the road and a restaurant in Thailand are probably about the same risk for eating bad food.
Street Food is SUPER Affordable
You can get any kind of meat on a stick (AKA satay) for $0.50-$1.50 USD each. Freshly made fruit shakes are usually around $1 USD each. It’s quite easy to get a full meal from Thai street food for under $5 per person – that means you can eat for less than $20 a day!
Street Food is EVERYWHERE
It’s harder to NOT find street food. The Karon Temple Market in Phuket is one example- it’s a twice-weekly market that’s surrounded by roads and roads of other street food vendors open every day. You can also get a bamboo-style tattoo, cheap massage, get your laundry done, and play with elephants in Thailand. Near all of these places, you are likely to find street food.
Watch Your Food Being Cooked!
Rarely in life do you get to see restaurant food being made in front of you. Most street food is cooked fresh or at least re-heated before your eyes.
How to Avoid Spoiled Food
Some of the street food stands are straight up nasty. We saw raw fish laid out on a table with no owner in sight. They were covered in flies and I can’t imagine anyone wanting to buy them. I didn’t see anyone buying them either.
Hit the Market When They Open
If the market opens at 4 PM, try to get there before 5 PM. The longer food sits out, the more likely it is to spoil.
Say No to Food in Big Bowls
You’ll come across tons of stews and curries in giant bowls and vats – these may have been sitting for hours at a time.
Avoid Places Hiding the Food
Is the food being cooked in the back of a van? Why isn’t it prepped in front of the customers? I recommend avoiding anywhere that hides the food that’s actually being cooked.
Eat as the Locals Do
If you see a ton of tourists at one stand but NO Thai people, ask yourself why. Typically the Thai people know which stands are best and will avoid the ones that may make you sick.
Look for Long Lines
If a stall has a long and steady line, that’s usually a clear indication that it’s a great option. Bonus points if there are local Thais in line!
Don’t Eat Raw Fruit & Veggies
Avoid fruit and veggies that are raw and do not need to be peeled – for example leafy greens and berries. These are especially likely to be contaminated. Opt for fruits with a peel instead like dragonfruit, mangosteen, and mangos.
Should I Worry About S
While spicy food is not exactly poisonous to the body, Thai people like their food HOT! Start with a mild or medium spice level and work your way up before you have them bring out the big guns. Don’t go too fast too hard or you may be up all night with regrets.
Some food stalls that prepare food to order will ask how spicy you want it, oryou can always try to make a special request. When you order, say “Mai sai
What About Tap Water?
Tap water in Thailand should be avoided, and don’t forget about ice made from tap water! Make sure your smoothie or drink is being made from bottled water or factory-produced ice.
How to Protect Yourself
HAND SANITIZER is your best friend here. Bring some from home or buy at the local 7-11. This is the one thing that is in your control, so take 10 seconds to put some on your hand.
Avoid Old Condiments
That food you just bought might be fine, but what about the chili sauce or seasoning that’s been sitting out? There may be bacteria inside if it’s not cleaned out/refrigerated properly.
Ask for (Temperature) HOT Food
You might get lukewarm food from a stall. Ask for them to cook it longer, especially if it has a lot of meat. The food should be hot, and this is the easiest way to prevent getting sick.
Be Ready to Talk About Allergies
If you have any food allergies, be sure to mention it in THAI while ordering. Find out the Thai word for it and communicate it before eating anything that could have it inside. Here are a few common allergens that are popular in street food in Thailand:
- Eggs – kahi
- Peanuts – tua li song
- Wheat – khao sali
- Milk – nohm
- Shellfish – hoi
Be Prepared for Stomach Issues
I recommend bringing medicines for upset stomachs and activated charcoal. The charcoal avoids toxins and helps you stop “going” so you can leave the hotel room. This is not expensive and worth every cent.
Keep It Simple
Sticking to dishes with less ingredients means less chance of getting food poisoning. For example, try simple grilled fish in order to avoid that weird soup with the pre-made sauce.
If you’re worried, just start with small amounts of street food. Let your body adjust, have your activated charcoal ready just in case, and remind yourself that it’s just food!
Don’t Overthink It
In America, it’s foreign to think of buying a plate of food from a guy selling it out of a taxi on the side of the street. Remember that billions of people eat street food across the world every day. It’s well worth it to try street food since it’s such a big part of the Thai culture! You always risk food poisoning when eating any food you didn’t prepare, so you might as well risk it with delicious fried chicken in Thailand!
For AMAZING Thai street food videos, check out DarrenB3 on YouTube! He’s an Australian-turned-Thai local who loves to show off the best food in the country.