Thailand is one of the most exciting destinations in Southeast Asia; a diverse and welcoming country which has just as much to offer to backpackers as upmarket business travelers. Mesmerizing sites include the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (where the jade idol is clothed in solid gold), the stupas and pagodas of Sukhothai Bangkok; the boat race scenes for the James Bond movie ‘Man with the Golden Gun’ were shot at Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, and the beach resort of Phang Nga Baykeeps where tourists from around the world gather.
There’s one particular draw, though, which is rarely discussed, but once tasted is absolutely unforgettable. It is Thailand’s street food scene. The capital, Bangkok, is especially cosmopolitan. Muslims are Thailand’s second largest religious group, and visitors from Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Gulf have done much to drive up demand for quality Halal food. Street food in Bangkok is often not Halal certified — indeed food labeling of any kind is in its infancy in Thailand. This means that you do need to pay attention to what you are eating, and of course to the cleanliness of the stall. Thankfully, Thailand is a country of a thousand flavours, and the vast majority of them are suitable for visitors following a Halal diet. You won’t need to go out of your way to find dishes you’ll love, as there is much to choose from.
Here’s our guide to Thailand’s Halal street food scene – where to go, and what to eat! We guarantee, reading it will make you hungry, so get ready for your culinary street food tour!
Khao San Road
Khaosan was historically Bangkok’s rice market, but for the past 20 years it has been the heart of the city’s tourism industry. Backpackers hostels, cafes, travel agents, and souvenir stalls fight for your attention (along with the infamous ping pong halls), and when darkness falls then there’s music, dancing, and the smell of barbecue in the air.
Aisa Rot Dee has a legendary status for serving cheap Thai-Muslim cuisine. The place has no pretences of grandeur — it is little more than a hole in the wall — but you can feast on mounds of yellow rice, fragrant with cumin; chunky oxtail soup which has a definite kick of red chilli; salty-sweet beef satay in a coconut sauce; and deep fried yellow chicken. All the dishes are Halal. You can sit down to eat your mouthwatering acquisitions at a plastic table in the courtyard, which is always lively and a good place to meet other travellers, or take away a dish like kuay teow neua (beef noodles) for as little as 40 baht.
If you want to walk and eat at the same time — preferably trying all sorts of different snacks — head to the food market at the end of Chakrapong Road. This is where the locals shop. There are numerous grilled delicacies on sticks, you can get a bowl of noodles in broth for 30 or 40 baht, and it’s also a great place to try khanom buang, crispy rice flour pancakes topped with shredded coconut, fruits, and other sweets. Our advice is to pick the stalls which have queues as there’s good reason for their popularity, and if you’re in any doubt about what it is that they’re serving, ask.
Many of the stalls don’t start serving until evening, but Roti-Mataba in the Banglampu area is a notable exception. A mataba is a stuffed roti, and at this particular outlet all of the choices are Halal. Egg, beef, and chicken fillings are favourites, and you dip the corner in sweet chilli vinegar, which cuts straight through the fat. The banana-stuffed mataba is deliciously sticky, if you fancy something sweet, and if you’ve been up all night dancing, it makes a surprisingly good breakfast option.
Pratunam District lies at the foot of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, the tallest building in Bangkok, so it’s easy enough to find it. Colourful and chaotic, it is one of the city’s busiest shopping areas, with factory outlets, market stalls, bazaars, and vendors pushing knock-off designer gears, luggage, clothing, shoes, jewellery, and more.
With so many potential customers passing by, the street food sellers are out in force in Pratunam, too. The seafood here is incredible: grab a whole squid on a skewer, cooked over a charcoal grill and served with a sour sauce. Prices start from 20 baht, and your squid will be grilled in front of you. The best tom yam (spicy Thai soup with shrimp) comes from Tomyaam Paanga, whose smiling owner is somewhat of a local celebrity, with legions of devoted fans. He sets up his stand every evening opposite the Citin Pratunam Hotel, and bowls of tom yam start from 100 baht, the price depending on your exact choice of ingredients.
Tom yam tends to be on the spicy side, so you might want to follow it with something sweet. Pratunam is a great place to try mango sticky rice with coconut milk and sesame seeds (120 baht)— a wonderful combination of contrasting textures and flavours. Other sweet treats include khanom buangwith coconut, persimmon, and candied gourd (30 baht), and kanom krok, hot, sweet coconut cakes which will cost you around 40 baht for a box.
Phahurat Market is Bangkok’s Little India, a labyrinth of alleys and stores off Chakhphet Road, where you’ll find traders hawking textiles and electronics, jewellery, spices, and Bollywood DVDs from their shops and stalls. The side streets are packed with snack stands catering to the local Indian population, the majority of whom are vegetarian or require their meat to be Halal.
If you like your street food spicy, head over to Toney Restaurant, a pavement-side cafe with an open-sided kitchen so you can watch the chefs at work. A meal of curry, rice, and roti will set you back no more than 100 baht, and particular highlights include salty aloo bindi (potatoes and okra), dry fried in spices, light and tender chicken, and freshly sliced cucumber in a hot and tangy sauce. Wash it down with a sweet or salted lassi.
Khao mok gai is Thailand’s answer to chicken biryani, and so of course it’s a firm favourite in Little India. The fragrant aromatic rice will be topped with fried onions, fresh cucumber, and Halal chicken drumsticks, and even for all that you’ll only pay about 50 baht. If you find yourself walking along Convent Road in Silom, Bangkok’s financial district, you’re also in luck: it’s another known hotspot for eating khao mok gai.
Shinsen Fish Market
One of the greatest selections of fresh fish in Thailand is on sale in Bangkok’s Shinsen Fish Market. It’s a very upmarket affair compared to some of the other fish markets in the city, but with the stench of fish and the general chaos removed, you can actually concentrate on what you are eating and enjoy the subtle flavours.
Come by any time, day or night, and choose your live fish or seafood from the aquamarine pools. Top chefs, many of them from Japan, then prepare and cook your ingredients exactly as you’d like them in the raw and steam bar, the grill zone, or cafe. You can even perfect your own culinary skills in the Shinsen Cooking School.
The Shinsen Fish Market isn’t a designated Halal food outlet, but, since you can personally select the ingredients, and can choose how they’re cooked, the ball’s very much in your court. It’s certainly not a cheap place to eat, but the staffs are knowledgeable and the fish is as fresh as it gets.
The cheaper option to look out for is pao-pao, a local freshwater fish which is crusted with salt on the outside in order to preserve it. When the fish is grilled, you can peel back the skin and the salt, revealing the soft, moist, and not too salty flesh in side. Served with steamed vegetables and a few spoons of sour sauce, you’ll pay around 75 baht for pao-pao, depending on the location of fish stall and the size of the fish.
Savor the squid, and the spices, fill yourself up with fluffy, fragrant rice, slurp noodles and hot chili soups, indulge your sweet tooth with khanom buang, kanom krok, and mango rice and refresh yourself with creamy lassi or coconut milk. Every street corner hosts Thai culinary adventure waiting to be explored, and you may as well find yourself plotting your day’s schedule to taste one succulent morsel after the next. Indulge your senses in Thailand’s mouthwatering and diverse Halal street food scene.
Featured Image Credit: J Aaron Farr via Flickr
Sophie Ibboston is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominated travel writer, a highly sought after tourism development consultant and author of five Bradt Travel Guides, including guidebooks to Kashmir and Sudan.