Bangkok is famous for its street food. Walk around the city and you’ll encounter stall after stall selling big bowls of noodles, grilled pork on sticks, fried dishes being prepared in massive woks…
So you might wonder… How much does street food cost in Bangkok?
The typical cost of a single meal is between 30฿ and 60฿ ($1-2 or £0.75-1.50). This is what you would expect to pay for a plate of noodles like pad thai or pad see ew, or perhaps a small Thai dish that is served with rice like pad grapao.
Some dishes cost more, particularly those that are meant for sharing. A big bowl of Thai Green Curry or tom saep will be in the region of 80-100฿ ($3 or £2.50). More exotic dishes, particularly seafood, fill out the top end of the range. For example, a large fish to share might be 250฿ ($8 or £6).
Small snacks and fruit are widely available and very inexpensive. For these, the cost can be as little as 10-20฿ for a bag of fresh papaya or a barbecued sausage, for example.
I threw a lot at you just now. It’s simply because the street food in Bangkok and Thailand is so rich and diverse that it’s not easy to give a short answer.
So if you’re interested in an answer that does more than scratch the surface then continue reading!
Please note: from now on I’m going to stop doing ‘back of the hand’ currency conversion. All prices are in the Thai baht (฿). As a quick rule of thumb… $1 = 30฿, £1 = 40฿ and €1 = 35฿ as of July 2019.
What Is The Cost Of Street Food In Bangkok?
Snacks – 10-30฿
If you’re looking for a little bite to satisfy yourself, then the streets of Bangkok are filled with options. Fruit sellers are everywhere. They set up these little carts that are filled with tropical fruit like Guava, Papaya, Mango, Dragonfruit, Rose Apple and loads more. Little bags cost 10-20฿ and often come with a small fork and some sugar.
You can also find more substantial snacks at this price. One of my favourites is sai graawk (ไส้กรอก) , a type of fermented sausage filled with herbs. It tastes a lot better than I can describe. One sausage is usually 10-20฿ and comes with a few vegetables and chillis to accompany it.
Prices do vary depending on where you go. For example, a stick of the barbecued pork snack muu ping (หมูปิ้ง) with sticky rice costs me 20฿ in downtown Bangkok. When out and about I’ve seen the same thing for 15฿ and sometimes 10฿, usually when I’m more in the sticks.
This is down to high “rent” costs. Street sellers can’t put up anywhere they like. There are fees to be paid and people to be bought off before you can establish your street food cart. The cost is more in the busier areas and this gets passed down to the poor consumer…
Single Serve Meals – 30-60฿
This category is for standard meals that a Thai person might get as lunch or dinner. It’s usually a bowl of noodles or a plate of rice and a dish. They can be bought to go or to sit in, and these are often eaten alone by working men and women grabbing their dinner on the way home from work. Check out Soi Convent around 6-7pm to see a lot of lone diners!
Dishes you see here might be guay dtiao (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว) which is a general term for noodles, pad grapao (ผัดกะเพรา) which is a super spicy stir-fried dish whose flavour comes from holy basil leaves, or pad thai gung (ผัดไทยกุ้ง) which is a fried noodle dish served with shrimp, peanuts and bean sprouts.
Note that by Western standards, these dishes are considered small. I’m an 80kg male who exercises a bit and I need to eat two of these or I will not be full. So it’s double the cost, for me. On the other hand, it’s good if you’re looking to lose weight. A lot of people come back from a 3 week holiday to Thailand and realize they’ve gone down a belt size or two!
Like the snacks, you’re paying different prices depending on where you go. Expat-dominated Sukhumvit and Silom are where you’ll be paying the higher prices. Expect that to drop to 40฿ per meal and often less if you’re willing to venture further afield. As a general rule, the fewer the foreigners the cheaper it will be. Of course, it’s not that easy to trek to Samut Prakan just to save 10฿ on your evening pad see ew!
Dishes To Share – 50-100฿
Sometimes you see some street food that looks more like a restaurant out on the street, with many dishes being served among a group of people and more of an eating out vibe. These are my favourite places to go to. They typically serve Isaan (region in Northeast Thailand) style dishes.
At these places, you buy dishes gap khao (กับข้าว) which means with rice. So you might get a kaaw muu yaang (คอหมูย่าง) or grilled pork neck, a som tam (ส้มตำ) or papaya salad and a muu daaet diao (หมูแดดเดียว) or sun dried pork for the table which everyone has little bits from. These dishes run you about 50-60฿.
On the higher end of the scale comes bowls of curry or soup. A big bowl of tom saep (ต้มแซบ) for everyone to dip into will be in the 80-100฿ range and for a large fish for the table you’re looking upwards of 200฿.
Each person has their own plate of rice. Sticky rice is traditional in Isaan cuisine, although normal steamed rice is always available too. This costs an extra 10-15฿.
These plates are designed for sharing and long dinners with friends or family. Don’t expect your food to come out fast and definitely do not expect your dishes to come out together. The idea is to sit and graze and drink and chat for an hour or two.
As you’re buying multiple dishes the cost works out to be higher than usual for street food. You can pay between 100-300฿ per person depending on your appetite. Add a bit more if you want to enjoy a beer or two with dinner.
How Often Do People Eat Street Food In Bangkok?
If you’re thinking that Bangkok sounds like an amazingly cheap place to grab a bite, then you’d be right. By Western standards, the food here costs a pittance. One meal is the price of a can of soda in more developed countries.
Expats here rarely cook. They pick up their dinner on the way home from the assorted street food stands. It’s low effort and it works out to be cheaper than buying all the ingredients yourself. The portion sizes are relatively small too which helps because there’s no cultural taboo about calling a fat person ‘fat’ here.
What’s really interesting is that it’s not just cheap for foreigners. If you compare how much eating out costs for Thais relative to their own incomes it’s very cheap too. So most Thais will also buy lunch and dinner on the street. Even a typical but lowish Bangkok salary of 15000-20000฿ is enough for a daily plate of 30-40฿ food.
Space is at a premium in Bangkok, and a kitchen in your apartment is seen a luxury. This is a photo of a typical room someone might rent. The word room comes from ห้อง or haawng which is the direct translation and is used because it’s just a small studio apartment with a bathroom. This might cost 3000-4000฿ which is the maximum for many young, single professionals. There’s nowhere to make food so most of your meals are coming from street vendors and 7/11.
[photo coming soon :)]
Why Is There So Much Street Food In Bangkok?
Bangkok is an incredibly dense city. Most people live in small apartments or rooms and houses are seen as a high-class luxury, among Thais and foreigners. No-one has a kitchen and the streets of downtown Bangkok have insanely high footfalls. All attractive conditions for the budding street food entrepreneur.
The other reason is simply that you can. Food hygiene standards are not as rigorous out here, and the ones that do exist are either not enforced or easily circumventable with ‘tip’ to the right government official. As such, anyone and everyone can find a space on the street and set up shop, quickly and easily.
Does this mean street food is not safe to eat? That’s a big question that I’ve tried to answer a little further down in this article.
Why Is Bangkok Street Food So Cheap?
Foods are largely commodities, in that they are roughly sold at the market price wherever you are in the world (with a few exceptions due to subsidies or tariffs). So how can food be so cheap here? I believe there are a couple of reasons.
1. Low cost of living. When you pop down to your local muu daaeng (หมูแดง) stall and get your bowl of noodles and red pork from the smiling old Thai lady, you’re putting 40฿ in her pocket, of which she keeps maybe 20฿. The thing is, she only needs to sell 20 a day to get a livable Bangkok salary (say 10,000฿) because the cost of living is so cheap. (Not that I recommend any foreigner try to live off 10,000฿ a month!)
2. Low overheads. When you make food on a spot on the pavement, you aren’t paying rent or electricity or anything that comes with owning a shopfront. There are fees attached (technically selling on the street is illegal so ‘payments’ need to be made) but they are small compared to opening a restaurant.
What Is The Cost Of Street Food Outside Of Bangkok?
Bangkok, being the capital and where much of the wealth gets concentrated, is expensive compared to the rest of Thailand. Street food is no exception and means that you pay a little less when you move outwards into the smaller cities and the provinces.
The smaller towns and cities might see a 10-30% decrease in price. So for your cheapo one-plate street food joints, you’ll see meals going for about 25-35฿. Nicer sit-down restaurants will still be more of course, and it does depend on where you go. When I was in Hat Yai – a big city in the southern and more Muslim area of Thailand – I remember going to a fantastic gai yaang (ไก่ย่าง) place and the prices were similar to Bangkok. The grilled chicken was so tasty though that I was happy to pay it.
The islands and touristy places like or Pattaya or Hua Hin are a mixed bag. You’ll find that places with high tourist traffic are chasing that tourist dollar and will charge as much as Bangkok and perhaps more. Get off the beaten path though, find out where the locals eat and you can expect 10-20% off.
This is also true of alcohol. A bottle of Leo beer with your food might cost 80-100฿ in the capital but 60-80฿ further afield.
Do Foreigners Pay A Different Price To Thais?
You might have heard about restaurants having Thai prices and farang prices. Sadly I can confirm that this does happen. Although it’s not as prevalent as a lot of people seem to think.
Here’s a photo from a kao man gai (ข้าวมันไก่) restaurant under Sala Daeng BTS station. It’s not street food as it’s in an old-style shophouse, but it illustrates the point. The price in English is easy to see as 50฿ for a chicken and rice. See that 40 under it? That’s the exact same writing but in Thai. They even kept the English numerals!
[photo coming soon :)]
That said, the problem isn’t as bad as people make out. When I first got here, I was hyper-aware of getting ripped off anywhere and everywhere which led to me being judgmental of what I perceived as high or unfair pricing.
Having lived here for a number of years now I realise I was wrong 90% of the time. If a taxi driver wants a higher fixed price, they usually just don’t want to drive through the agonisingly slow Bangkok traffic and are asking for a little extra to make it worth it.
In the example I posted earlier, is the difference of 10฿ a big deal to any tourist or expat? Probably not. Whereas that is a significant sum to someone on minimum wage here. Most street vendors are honest, and most of them can’t even be bothered to deal with a two-tier price structure.
Is Street Food Safe To Eat?
Seasoned travellers of Asia may know that Singapore used to have a flourishing street food scene. Nowadays, all street food in the city is corralled into large warehouse-type buildings called hawker stalls. The food on offer is still fantastic, but the charm of buying and eating your grub street-side is gone.
The reason Singapore did this is hygiene. The street food that you will see in Bangkok is made without access to running water and other vital utilities. While you can work around certain aspects, you are not going to have the same hygiene you will have full access to water.
In my experience of eating street food in Bangkok for over 5 years, I’ve never got sick or come down with food poisoning. In fact, the one time I did get food poisoning was from a steak that I cooked myself, so technically street food is ahead of my own cooking in terms of hygiene…
Street food vendors do take hygiene and food safety seriously. The street food in Bangkok relies on recurring business from customers who take the same route to work each day or pick up their chow from the market near their condo. Even a single instance of food poisoning would hit business hard, and word would spread. The ones that stick around are the ones that have shown themselves to be safe bets time and time again.
This is in contrast to tourist destinations. A restaurant with a rotating cast of customers doesn’t have to worry about repeat customers or word-of-mouth. And surprise surprise… all the incidents I’ve heard of about food poisoning in Thailand comes from eating at touristy places, with islands being the worst offenders.
Will Street Food Be Around In 5 Years?
Anyone who’s taken a walk down even a single street in Bangkok may be surprised to learn that selling on the street is illegal in Thailand! Of course, this is a rule that is regularly flouted.
The rumours are that it makes a nice little earner for those who can demand ‘fees’ from the street food vendors in exchange for being able to set up and sell. This illegality means there is no food hygiene regulation.
As I mentioned, they had a similar problem in Singapore and solved it by bunching up all the street food into big warehouses that can provide running water and the like.
Actually, the Thai government want to do a similar thing with Thai street food and push it into more sanitised spaces. This has been met with widespread resistance so far although in the long term it seems inevitable.
From a sanitation point of view, this is a good thing and the food is all in one place which makes it easier to find. And it’ll make the streets clear, no more weaving in and out of tables and restaurants! On the other hand, you can’t help but feel that Thailand will lose some of its charm if and when this comes into play.
Will Thailand still have its street food in 5 years? I believe it will. Change doesn’t happen that fast here. But moves have already been made to go in this direction. Some streets have had street food cleared and new street food complexes are being made. You can read more about it in this BK Magazine article here.