Food stalls on the streets of Bangkok can look a little intimidating to foreigners, but they provide convenient, delicious and cheap meals to the locals. Wherever you go in the city, these food stalls are plentiful and very often you will find a high concentration of them in particularly busy areas. Some street vendors operate in groups, often in local markets, which means you can go to the same place every night and have a different choice of meal. Some even open around the clock. The main attractions usually include a noodles stall, a made-to-order food stall, and 'curry on rice' stall.
Knowing what's what is essential when eating from food stalls. You should be able to figure out what kind of food a particular stall is selling by observing the ingredients in the glass display window and the way they're being prepared. There are many kinds of noodle stalls available; chicken noodles, duck noodles, egg noodles with wonton and 'moo daeng' (red barbequed pork), beef and meat ball noodles, 'yen ta four' (noodles in red soy bean paste with fish ball, squid and morning glory) - the list is endless. The noodles themselves come in different sizes and shapes too.
Noodles: what to choose from
Deciding what kind of noodles you want can be a daunting task as choices are so plentiful.
Sen Yai (rice river noodle): a wide flat noodle made from white rice flour
Sen Mii (rice vermicelli): a small wiry looking rice flour noodle
Sen Lek: a medium flat rice flour noodle (the same kind used in pad thai)
Bah Mii: an egg and wheat flour noodle (yellow in colour)
Woon Sen (glass noodle): a thin, wiry, transparent soya bean flour noodle
Gieow (wonton): boiled minced pork wrapped in yellow dough
Once you have a favourite kind of noodle in mind, the next step is to make a decision whether to have 'naam' (with soup) with it, or 'haeng' (dry). Now it's time to choose what meat you want in your noodles. Just look at the display and see what is on offer. The price varies from 20 to 50 baht and you can have it 'pi sed' (extra) by adding five more baht.
Now you have a bowl of noodles before you, you can start eating right away or add the condiments to spice it up a little. The condiments, aka the 'four flavours', are sugar, dried ground chili, vinegar with chili, fish sauce and/or ground peanuts. Adding sugar to noodles may be something of a novelty to you, but it's your chance to be experimental. Remember to taste the food before 'four-flavouring' it!
It's not just about rice
As you probably know, rice is to Thais what bread is to Westerners. It's usually eaten with different kinds of side dishes. 'kaao laad kaeng' (curry on rice) stalls are probably the cheapest and quickest place to eat. A wide range of different items on display can be chosen. Here, the ordering process is less tricky than with the noodles, because all you need to do is pointing to whatever you want. The price is also logical; the more items you order, the more you have to pay.
Another good place to eat at is 'made-to-order' food stalls.
Basically, whatever you want, they will cook it for you. Most of these places don't provide a menu (and if they do, it will most likely be in Thai), but they all serve the same kind of food. Some of the most popular dsihes are 'kaao pad' (fried rice), 'pad kaprao' (stir-fried meat with holy basil leaves), 'kai jiaow' (Thai-style omelette) and 'moo kratium prik thai' (stir-fried pork in garlic and pepper).
Other food stalls are also worth checking out. Try 'kaao mun kai' (rice and steamed chicken), 'pad thai' (stir-fried rice noodles), 'hoi todd' (oyster omelette), sweet roti, 'moo satay (grilled pork on a stick) and traditional Thai desserts. The rest is up to you to explore!