All over the world people are looking for street food, except perhaps for the people who grew up eating it. They’re often looking for more “sophistication” in their dining choices, which range from McDonalds to sous vide, depending on their income levels. They’re replaced by travelers, whose eagerness to find street food is exceeded only by their ignorance. Where? What? When? (And sometimes)—Why?
Several years ago, Chawadee Nualkhair brought light to the darkness for Bangkok visitors when she wrote Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls, which is now out of print but still relevant if you can find one on alibris or at a used bookstore. (I suggest Dasa Books and Coffee in Bangkok.) In its wake, she brings Thailand’s Best Street Food to eaters whose ambition surpasses their local knowledge—or for Thai residents who are overwhelmed by their culinary choices.
It may seem hubristic to the point of madness to narrow Thailand’s street food choices to a scant 160 pages, but that isn’t what Ms. Nualkhair is doing. She has written a sort of eater’s primer, giving a springboard of information that will launch the reader’s own journey of discovery—or, with any luck at all, her own series of street food guides to the regions she introduces in her latest book.
She begins with questions: Is street food dying out? What is a street food stall? How did she make her selections for this book? The question and answer that I loved best in her first book is absent here: How do you determine the hygiene of a particular vendor? Nualkhair’s advice is look carefully at the jars that hold condiments; if they aren’t clean, walk away.
A visual glossary to different kinds of noodles with accompanying ingredients and broth, fried noodles, rice dishes, appetizers and snacks, desserts, and beverages, with names in both English and Thai is almost worth the price of the book. Don’t want ice in your drink? Point to the Thai script for it and shake your head vigorously with a dramatic rendition of “Nononono." The only thing missing is the Thai script for “Where is the toilet?” which just might come in handy.
Otherwise the reader is covered, beyond a doubt. There are maps to each culinary destination; there are names and addresses of the food stalls both in English and in Thai, there are wonderful and tempting photographs (that certainly deserve more space than they have been given), and every so often there is a recipe—Elvis Suki’s Grilled Scallops, anyone? Adventurous eaters are even told which stalls have restrooms and which do not provide bathroom tissue.
The choices range from north to south, with the greatest concentration given to Bangkok. But every region is given careful attention—think quality over quantity, along with information that will help in conducting further independent study.
Really, what more does anyone need? On my next trip to Thailand, this book is going along too.~Janet Brown