Never Question the Chunks: Why You Should Eat Street Meat in Thailand

The first few times I backpacked Southeast Asia, I didn’t eat meat. Not only did this necessitate my miming “vegetarian” (an embarrassing routine resembling the bird-of-paradise mating dance), but it also meant I missed an integral part of the backpacker experience by being unable to sample every local delicacy.

So I was stoked to return to Thailand as an omnivore, able to dine without questioning every anonymous brown chunk floating in my noodles. (Save yourself the mental anguish: never question the chunks.)

On our second day in Bangkok’s Chinatown, we were filming a segment on street food, and I dove in mouth-first.

“Ohmigod, this is delicious,” I raved, digging into a spicy, barbecued tentacle on a stick. “You should try one!”

Our videographer shook his head and patted his belly. “No thanks. It looks great, but… no thanks.”

thai street market fruit

Bitter melons and starfruit brighten up Bangkok’s streets. (Photo: Outpost/John Price)

It’s a common misconception that street food is sketchier than restaurant food. Depending on the stall’s popularity, street food may actually be safer, since there’s a higher turnover rate. (We chatted about this in the first episode of our series.) Your best bet is to find a place that’s popular with locals, since that suggests not only freshness, but also that they’re doing something right. Ignore emptier, touristy restaurants with large menus; the bigger the selection, the more likely the food’s been hanging around for a while—and by catering to travellers they aren’t concerned with repeat customers.

(That said, it’s all parasite roulette anyway, which is why I carry Pepto Bismol, Immodium and tissues in my day-pack.)

In addition to the grilled lobes of Dr. Zoidberg, Lena and I sampled the Thai version of an English muffin (a Thaiglish muffin?); chestnuts roasted on an open fire, which reminded us that Christmas was only six weeks away; and durian with the taste of a jungle flower and the texture of a kitchen cloth. And that was just in Bangkok’s Chinatown.

Durian: it tastes better than it smells. (Photo: Outpost/John Price)

In Lampang, we ate what approached Timbits prepared al dente and stuffed with sesame paste and, in Chiang Mai, a crepe filled with bananas and condensed milk—an obligatory snack on the banana pancake trail.

The best street food was outside the Black House cooked by a man named Apple: pork lollipops so succulent that even our wary videographer couldn’t resist.

The weirdest, though, was on Khao San Road, where Lena reluctantly gagged down a spoonful of grubs and I chomped the head off a crispy scorpion. As soon as the camera switched off, we hacked like cats chewing grass. But you’ll have to wait for the video to see that one.

And while I can’t honestly recommend the scorpion, which tastes like deep fried hay, I do encourage all travellers to Thailand to eat on the street. It’s cheap and easy, and the options are like… whatever the Thai equivalent of a smorgasbord is. (Despite my affinity for cute names like truk-truk, I’m not even going to try that one.)

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