Eating Thai Food from Street Stalls

Clean food, good taste. Thailand's symbol of Thai food quality in preparation standards.

Thailand's symbol of quality food preparation.

© 2008 Apornpradab Buasi

One of the most common fears for first-time visitors to Thailand is that the food is not foreign belly-friendly. Many guidebooks cite horror stories about food poisoning overseas, but most tourists in Thailand won’t have any serious issues.

Thailand has pretty good standards of cleanliness. Though probably not considered world-class, Thailand would rank highly in comparison to most of its Asian neighbors.

Some visitors eat all their meals from food stalls lining the streets and don’t experience any problems. Others might drink a cup of chai yen (sweet Thai tea) and spend the rest of their vacation leapfrogging restrooms. Pay attention to the following food tips and you’ll probably be just fine:

  • “Clean Food Good Taste.” Occasionally, at a street-side vendor or restaurant, you’ll see this sign (photo above). Consider it a fairly reliable indicator that the owner cares about cleanliness and food preparation standards.

  • Eat where there are many Thai people. Thais know where the food is safe and delicious.

  • Follow the yellow shirts. Thais in short-sleeved yellow Polo-type shirts, to show respect to the king, are often government workers and professional employees that have a little more money to spend on food. Thais with more money usually eat at places a step up from the cheaper places - and you probably should, too.

  • Stay away from pre-made food that might have been prepared days ago. It’s safer to watch your food cooked fresh in front of you. You don't want to eat from a vendor with pale yellow chickens hanging behind the glass and festering in the Bangkok sunshine day after day without customers. High turnover is key.

  • No MSG. If you don’t want MSG, you must say something, because some vendors add it in spoonfuls. Many vendors in tourist areas will understand, “No MSG please.” But if not, in Thai you’d say, “My sy pawng choo rote ka" if you’re a female, and, “My sy pawng choo rote krup” if you’re a man.

  • Insist on choosing your food. If there's food on display - point to what you want. You’re paying for it, so show them which one you want; don’t let them choose the older food for you.

  • Bring home remedies. Don’t forget the Imodium AD and other preferred remedies from home, just in case! You may not be able to find exactly what you’re looking for in the pharmacies here.

If you do start to feel significantly ill, you should go to a hospital or clinic quickly so they can sort out the issue and help you return to good health. Medical treatment is very inexpensive compared to the USA and other western countries. Thai doctors have a lot of experience with diagnosing and treating food poisoning, so let them help so you can enjoy the rest of your vacation exploring amazing Thailand.

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