Krungthep is a city that eats on its feet. Thais have this snacking habit, unintentionally following the “five small meals a day” advice that so many weight-watchers hear. Whether a mid-morning snack of khanom krok, little salty-sweet rice flour and coconut milk pancakes, an afternoon snack of freshly sliced tropical fruit, or a quick bowl of guaytiaw – rice noodles – to stave off hunger, there is always plenty to choose from along a Thai sidewalk.
This picture accurately captures a dilemma that is increasingly common here in Thailand. Alongside the plethora of street vendors is an equally-abundant number of convenience stores. The difference between the two is not price – neither the 7-11 snacks nor the ones from street vendors will bust your budget – but quality.
“Fast food” when it comes from street vendors is made from fresh ingredients, is very rarely more than a few minutes (or at most a few hours) old, has no preservatives, and generally is more nutrient-dense than calorie-dense. “Fast food” when it comes from the convenience stores and Western fast food chains that are increasingly common is quite the opposite, offering few redeeming values other than a quick way to expand your waistline.
And, sadly, that expanding waistline is just what we’re seeing. Childhood obesity is growing rapidly in Thailand and especially here in Krungthep you see more and more children who are wearing X-Large size school uniforms.
In the months to come, I’d like to write more about Thai street vendors and snacks. They are often a bit self conscious when it comes to taking pictures, but I’ll look for some opportunities to share with you more about the foods we eat here.
I love reading your blogs about Thailand! what you say about the difference between street venders and 7-11 type places in India (for Americans like myself anyway) is the total reverse because the street food in India can kill us or make us wish we were dead anyway. Same is not true of the Indian restraurants, which are mostly awesome, but never eat at the Mumbai airport even if you are starving to the point of absurdity!
Maybe it’s mental or what you just said, but I always thought street vendor foods taste a lot better than the same food from some other place.
The street vendors are what I miss the most about being in Asia. I think the only times I don’t eat street vendor food there are the times when I wanted to specifically try certain Western fast food places just to see what their versions are like.We’ve been having Chinese New Year festivals here for the last two weekends, and so the street vendors have been opening up in the plaza for us. It’s wonderful, having them. But I wish they were permanent; and I wish they were just downstairs from me so I could go down to them at midnight.
One of the things I enjoyed the most when I was in Hong Kong – that was not available here – were the street vendors. Any time I was hungry or felt like having a snack I knew that I could just walk a few blocks and I could get myself something to eat, even if it were 2 or 3 a.m. I don’t make that a habit, of course, but I thought it was nice. It was much better than going to 7 eleven which was just across the street.
I’ve heard lately that San Francisco is leaning more toward the street vendor route but with tepid results due to the stringent regulations and loooooong wait times securing a permit. Here’s hoping that we see more of this (along with decent quality) in the States!
Interesting! Don’t they serve the same menu items on the street and in the convenience stores? Something without preservatives is most attractive to my thinking…
I remember you writing similar stories about street vendors before. For me (I have a bit of a sensitive tummy), I worry about food safety. I think one of the advantages of street vendor is that you can check out their entire operation. There’s nothing hidden away. Most of the street vendors here in Toronto are just hot dog vendors. Ugh…
The growing waist line among children in India (especially in the cities) is a major concern too! Thanks to McD, KFC and sorts.
I adored eating as I shopped….lol I think fried bananas were my favorite but I also loved the meat on a stick ( that was the reason I went to the races with Pat on the weekend…best meat on a stick in town!!!). I had a dear friend from the Philipines who routinely told me that I was tempting fate by eating at the street vendors..that all sorts of horrid diseases awaited me. I never had a problem…not even a tummy ache!! I was either lucky or blessed!!! lolRuth Ann
I’m looking forward to hearing more about the street vendors. I’ve heard wonderful things about Thai street food!
Yet people aren’t fat in Thai, even if the food is high in fat?
The 7-11 near my place was always packed with kids. It was strategically positioned across the street from the main school entrance.
@amygwen – And often, they are strategically positioned across the street from yet another branch of 7-11!@Wangium – The food itself isn’t particularly high in fat, no more so than food in other Asian countries. The Thai adults who are fat – many of them men – is because of the beer drinking. That’s starting to change as cable TV, video games, Western style fast food and convenience stores with packaged food become more and more common.@TheCheshireGrins – I’ll get to it!@Redlegsix – @ElusiveWords – @And_I_love – Speaking to your comments about hygeine with the street vendors, while I can’t speak to the street food in India I can say that the Thai street vendors are pretty much uniformly safe. I’ve never had a problem eating from the carts. I tend to avoid uncooked foods such as the som tam, green papaya salad, but the fried and boiled foods like pad thai, noodle soups, grilled meats, etc. are well-cooked. The other advantage is that the vendors buy all their ingredients fresh in the morning and use them up by the end of the day. No leftovers, nothing sitting out for more than a few hours. @Dezinerdreams – American gastronomic imperialism!@murisopsis – Totally different foods. Inside a 7-11 looks much like a 7-11 in the US as far as the foods offered. On the street it is grilled meats, noodle soups, pad thai, green papaya salad, fresh fruit and dozens of other things.@marc11864 – There have been some articles about street vendors and the increasingly gourmet taco trucks and roach coaches in the Bay Area. That would be a good thing in my opinion.@osmundaregalis – Here, too, I know that there’s late night dining not far away, cheap, tasty and pretty good for you.@arenadi – Maybe that’s your calling? Start a street vendor resurgence there.@Roadlesstaken – More MSG, lah! Ha ha ha…
ok ok, cool, just, if you are American, watch out for vender Ice Cream in India unless “squirts in the streets” has a nice ring for you! LOL
I remember eating my dish of chicken over rice (khao mun kai) at a street stall near the Silom skytrain station for dinner snack, it was quite good indeed! The chicken meat was very tender and juicy! :p
@And_I_love – Will keep that in mind! =D@CurryPuffy – Chicken here just tastes better.
When I lived in Malaysia, I loved (and still love) buying my snacks from the street vendors! The fresh cut fruits, the yummy freshly squeezed sugar cane drink, or the fresh soya drink (and dessert), just to name a few. It is a pity that more and more kids (and some adults) today prefer the industrially packed, high-fructose snacks to the healthy ones.
@bejewel07 – You have to think that not only obesity but all sorts of other ailments are caused by this shift from natural snacks to packaged and processed ones.
Looking forward to the Thai street vendor foods!!! 🙂