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Eating off the side of the road in Thailand

I've seen some very sketchy places on the side of the road in Thailand, you see Thai people hate to throw anything away, so if their selling food today and it didn't sell, your likely to see that same food being sold the next day. Now under controlled circumstances that would be fine but how about the meat that was sitting in the open all day and then goes home to a fridge that isn't cold enough then sits in the open all day again before you eat it. That's how you get sick.

Eating On the Side of the road in Thailand

But is it OK to eat off the side of the street? Safe, i wouldn't say yes but you can eat of the side of the street in Thailand and not get sick if you know the right foods to eat. For example, pretty much all noodles for sale in Thailand on the side of the road are 99% OK, this is because Thai people eat noodles all the time and most places go through a lot of it, it's all very hot so germs are killed easier. Fruit is something else that's OK to eat and not get sick. Cakes on the side of the street are probably OK but don't think you're going to get anything tasty.

The things you shouldn't eat off the side of the street are any meets that they deep fry or bbq, these are the nasty ones that could put you in hospital, they may taste alright but more often than not the oil is masking the taste, do not eat it.

There was a case of an unsolved death at a Chiang Mai hotel, the deaths were first believed to be linked to food poison either eaten at the hotel or from some seaweed they ate off the side of the road. Actually the seaweed probably wasn't the cause at all since the hotel has now been shut down. Though I'm sure there are many cases of deaths being attributed to bad food cooked up and served on the pavement it's just difficult to trace.

Personally I'm always worried about eating on the side of the road but after a lot of trial and error I know which places I can eat at and not get sick and which places I can avoid. One thing I do like about the roadside stalls I can see immediately how sanitary or how well kept the cart is, this is a good indication but so is traffic flow, I'll never eat at an empty restaurant.

Someone else might have a different opinion from me but personally I think they should just rid of the whole selling food on the side of the road. For starters it takes away from legitimate businesses who pay real rent. For example I know a raelly good Som Tam place my girl likes to eat at. I've been going for years they are pretty popular but they have a huge amount of rent. Recently some chick works out a small deal with the temple pays something silly like 100 baht a day to be there and my shop well they pay 800 a day selling the same product. This is but one example.

Inevitably everyone who comes here for a while will have a meal sitting on a 50 baht plastic chair hoping that some car doesn't happen to smash into a bike and hurl it towards you're table (happen to me twice). For tourists please don't be a princess about shit either, put some chili in the food and god forbid some ice in your cup because whether you're on the side of the road or a restaurant in Thailand just remember it all comes from the same place.

where the food comes from Thailand

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About Chris

Chris founded LivingThai.org in 2011 and has received over 3 million visitors. He has lived here for over 10 years and speaks reads and writes very good Thai.

8 Responses to Eating off the side of the road in Thailand

  1. Food Lover September 28, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

    A food cart selling cake in Thailand? Are you referring to the stuff baked in a water bath? If so, I’ve had great “kanom ma gang” from food carts, though sadly not in Chiang Mai.

    As for BBQ, you’re missing out! There’s some delicious pork just around the corner from the flower market (you probably know the night market there). Hopefully they’re still there when I return to CM in a few months…

    I think many of the food carts keep open until they are sold out. I’m generally far more concerned when I go to the meat section of a typical thai fresh food market!

    As for getting rid of the food carts: That would be a shame. The food market in Thailand has a great deal of specialization, which I assume is allowed due to the low overhead of selling the dishes you’re good at making to hungry customers, who normally wouldn’t come back, if you sell a subpar product (which is why you generally shouldn’t eat around the Night Bazaar, where they do not rely on repeat customers).

    That said, you don’t see the same food diversity in CM as you do around lunchtime in BKK, but it could just be the taste of the CM people, during nighttime some streets are lined with food carts all selling noodles and nothing else — so lack of willing vendors does not seem to be the problem.

    Btw: The unexplained deaths in CM, from what I have read, a more likely explanation is a toxic reaction from the pesticide the hotel used to spray the beds.

  2. Martini Bianco September 29, 2013 at 5:31 pm #

    Actually fruit (unless kept in loads of ice) and uncooked vegetables (these market stalls trying to imitate salad concept) are pretty risky. As the saying goes ‘Peel it, squeeze it, boil it or forget about it. Busy stalls are likely safer and tastier and quiet once obviously. BBQed stuff is fine, if it’s a busy stall and you actually pick the sticks yourself.

    A big no no for me, unless I really know the place, are the places with pre-cooked food that you can choose, that are open all day long. No problem with the ones that open only 6-9am or in the malls, but on side walks… No thanks.

    • ChiangMaiguyyy October 8, 2013 at 5:25 pm #

      What? Fruit and veggies can sit out all day… What are you talking about? Fruit and vegetables obviously go bad but when they do go bad it wont make you sick, they will just taste bad… And you can obviously tell if they are bad before you eat or buy them.

      • Chris October 21, 2013 at 2:25 am #

        Yes they can sit out all day and be perfectly fine to eat and if it wasn’t you’d tell the food is off, meat is harder to see.

  3. ChiangMaiguyyy October 8, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    I’m actually really surprised to hear you say this….. Ive been living here in Chiang Mai for 4 months now and 90% of my meals come from “sidewalk restaurants”…. And I especially love Isaan BBQ which you said to steer clear of…. Personally its the best food in the country. BBQ wings and pork, you really cant go wrong, and you get your protein, which is very lacking in most Thai food.

    As for not paying rent… These carts all pay rent hahahaha. They dont just roll up and block the “real” restaurants….. They pay to park in these places…. And in some cases they pay as much or more than the actual real restaurants themselves. And if you didnt notice… MOST Thai real restaurants are still just a food cart parked in front of a hollowed out building with tables inside.

    I dont know… 99% of the time I agree with your articles, but this one just seems like you couldnt think of anything to write about or you had a bad meal!

    • Chris October 21, 2013 at 2:32 am #

      I know from experience I’ve done sidewalk stalls and rented out shops. Take for example behind chiang mai university, on one side of the street the vendors sell their stuff pay about 80 baht for electric the night. Across the street you rent and pay at least 20,000 baht a month plus utilities. The guy in the shop would get more business if the roadside vendors didn’t setup up. I’m not sure if you’ve run a business in Thailand before but from my own experience and the opinion of other business owners this is the general opinion. And it’s OK to disagree.

  4. ChiangMaiguyyy October 9, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    I would say the food you should stay away from FOR SURE 100% of the time is the restaruants who prepare the food in the mornings then it just sits in the medal bowls all day…. They dont heat it up for you… They dont refrigerate it…. It just sits there for 10-18 hours a day… Maybe even use the same food the next day too.

    This is ALMOST ALWAYS how the curries are served… Which is a damn shame because I am a huge curry fan. My girlfriend took me to one of these restaurants when I first moved to Thailand and I have never been back and will never go back. Steer clear for sure. This food will put you in the hospital. You can spot them just about anywhere in Thailand…. It might be the most common type of restaurant.

    As a general rule of thumb…. Just eat something they cook on the spot and you will be ok. Never eat anything that has been cooked before hand.

  5. harvie October 22, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    I usually eat anything that is hot or looks hot.

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