Bangkok is one the best cities in the world for street food, and whenever someone new comes to work with me in Bangkok the first thing they ask is, can I eat the street food?
The hotel I stay in is just across the street from the Patpong night market and in the evenings, the street is lined with probably 50 food carts. They sell everything from fruit, drinks, soups, curries and traditional Phad Thai.
During one of my first trips to Thailand I got a bit of advice from an Australian who was managing the hotel at the time. I asked what the best way was to avoid travelers stomach (upset stomach) when in Thailand. Of course, you can not drink the water, he said. But the second piece of advice has perhaps been my saving grace. Be careful, he said, of the type of street food you eat. He recommended not to eat anything raw from the streets, especially shell fish and crustaceans if you’ve not had Hepatitis A vaccine. He also recommended eating from stalls vs. carts. Stalls are known to have better heating/cooking devices and you have a better chance of getting food that is not under-cooked.
So why does it matter? 1.4 million people get Hepatitis A every year which can cause mild to severe illness. Hep A is a virus that infects the liver and can be transmitted in many ways. One of the ways it’s transmitted is by eating raw seafood that has been in contaminated water. The water in Bangkok is DIRTY! If you can’t drink the water, you certainly shouldn’t be eating raw food that has been washed or stored in it.
I’ve talked with many locals who tell me that while the street use store bought or purified water to cook with, they don’t always use the same water to clean with. So, one way to avoid getting sick…avoid raw street food.
So what kind of street food can you eat then? If you’re going to eat street food, find cooked foods. Personally, I do not eat any type of seafood from the street or stalls. I’ve not had Hep A shots, so I’m extra cautious.
I’ve eaten Phad Thai from street carts, but ask for no kung (pronounced goong), or shrimp in Thai. Learning how to say mai kah kung (pronounced my gah goog) or no shrimp, can come in handy on the street. If you want to say no fish, replace kung with pla.
Likewise, if you have any food allergies its wise to have someone write for you in Thai what food you’re allergic to. Carry that with you so you’re able to show people when you’re ordering food. I am allergic to Tomato, a word I can barely say in Thai, and so I’ve got a little card I carry with me that was written by the hotel concierge. I also have snapped a photo of it so that I have it on my iPhone. It’s come in handy more than a few times.
In the end, you have to decide what you’re comfortable eating and from where. Should You Eat Street Food? If you haven’t had the appropriate vaccines, err on the side of caution – it would be awful to have an upset stomach ruin your holiday!
Here’s some street food…can you guess what each one is?