In the early evenings Bangkok’s roadsides come to life with barbecues, drinks and congregations of local chatter. Pavements transform to seated feeding areas, vendors work grills and weary workers join to unwind with local liquors and Isaan food. Isaan foods are the hugely popular yet less celebrated staples of North East Thailand. At first glance a little intimidating to passersby as occasional tourists linger at grills, catch an eyeful of intestines, then move on to safer food options. When you know what to look for at roadside barbecues the eating can be unmatched. Be adventurous and it will be rewarding. Take a seat, wait for your order then tear into some drool-inducing soups, meats, salads and liquors. Eat with sticky rice. Bangkok local Allan Wilson guides us through the menu.
The smoke and sizzle over the crack of hot charcoals.
- Kor Moo Yang – Chewy grilled pork neck served with a rich, sticky chilli dip.
- Kai Yang – Marinated, barbecued chicken served with a sweet chilli dip.
- Pla Pao – Freshwater fish, salt coated and stuffed with lemongrass. Grilled to perfection and served with a chilli infused fish sauce.
Spicy Salads and Soups
If you’re not crying it’s not hot enough. If you don’t want to cry ask for mai phet (not hot).
- Som Tam – The iconic Thai Papaya salad, crunched in a mortar and pestle to create a sweet, sour, salty and (very) hot side dish. Main ingredient green (unripe) papaya.
- Laab Moo – While originating from Laos this fiery minced pork salad is a big favorite in Isaan. For a chewier, grilled pork version try namtok.
- Tom Saap – This hot and sour pork soup gives Tom Yum a run for its money. May contain innards.
A barbecue isn’t a barbecue without a good beer.
- The beer of choice with locals is Leo Beer but each is as good as the next. Singha, Chang. Big bottles (Yai), no ice.
- For liquor the local favorite is Blend 285 a Thai Whisky blended as a Scotch. Often replaces the now out of favor but equally potent Sangsom Rum, an iconic backpacker tipple.
Barbecues can pop up anywhere. Necessary are tables, chairs, grills, food and hungry locals. My local hangout on a leafy Sukhumvit side street is ‘Chang Noi’ or ‘Little Elephant’. Unsurprisingly unheard of online. It’s where I go to neck beer, ravage meats, sweat on heat and feel like a man. For an easier, more accessible grill one of Bangkok’s most popular open air barbecues is located a short walk from Central World Mall (evening hours towards Pratunam).