One of the words that you will hear most often in Thailand is'aloi' (or'aroi' - the'l's and'r's are often interchangeable). 'Aloi' means delicious. Or yum-yum. The Thais love their food so you'll hear it all the time. Fortunately you don't have to eat in expensive restaurants to experience aloi food. It is cheap, clean and easily available on the streets of every town and city. Many Western tourists (falang or farang) are nervous of eating on the street as they are afraid of picking up a stomach bug. In reality, they are for more likely to suffer a runny bottom from the expensive tourist buffets that often leave food lying around for days. The street food is nearly always fresh, hygienic and cooked right in front of your eyes (you might not be so impressed with'proper' restaurants and hotels if you were to see where the food was actually stored, prepared and cooked).
It might be a good idea to avoid eating slabs of meat that have been left lying on grills next to pollution strewn motorways, and some Thai food will simply be too spicy ('pet' in Thai) for the average falang. Other Thai food will simply not be to Western tastes. It doesn't matter if you don't like everything - it's cheap and you can put it all down to experience.
Here are some of the best Thai dishes to be experienced on the cheap and on the street:
1. Som Tam (Pappaya Pok Pok)
This is a spicy salad made by bashing it all up together with a large mortar and pestle. The pestle - or is it the mortar? - is held gripped tightly in one hand and vigorously moved up and down. When working at a Thai boys' school I would often ask them about their favourite foods. They would always claim that it was 'Pappaya Pok Pok' so that they would have an excuse to make the accompanying hand gesture. Boys will be boys.
2. Noodle Soup Variations of noodle soup - you can also have it dry - are found everywhere. You can choose the type of noodles you want, along with any extras, from the vendors stall. Often includes fish balls, bean sprouts, pork, assorted green vegetables, beef, wanton and jelly like square lumps (this is actually congealed blood). Falangs usually prefer the white or clear noodle soup to the darker variety.
3. Ladyboy Cocktails Not strictly speaking food and not always served by ladyboys. Never the less, a lot of the best cocktail stalls in Bangkok do seem to be made by men pretending to be ladies. Amongst the most popular of their concoctions are Pina Coladas (white rum, coconut cream and pineapples) and Mai Tais (white rum, orange, lime and pineapples). Don't bother with anything that is blue, green, purple or fluorescent - at best it will taste like cough medicine.
4. Deep Fried Insects, Bugs and Scorpions If it crawls past too slowly then the Thais will eat it. They like their snacks. The best of the bugs will be hard and crunchy on the outside but soft and squidgy on the inside; once you have bitten through the hardened crust, the soft white insides will squirt out on your tongue. The insects' legs will get stuck between your teeth and the scorpions are hard to bite in two. In truth, most of the insects and bugs will taste of nothing more than the cooking oil that they were deep fried in.
5. Pad Thai
This style of fried noodles is a definite falang favourite. It can be done with prawns, chicken, pork and egg or can be a purely vegetarian dish of bean sprouts, onions and whatever type of noodle you choose. Simple, aloi and not too'pet' (spicy).
6. Chicken's Feet
Many falang will balk at the thought of nibbling on these evil looking appendages. They taste like rubber and toe nails but Thais love them. Not for 'lightweight' falangs.
7. Roti (Pancakes)
Thai pancakes are another falang favourite. Often made with eggs and bananas, and topped with sticky condensed milk and chocolate. Some roti vendors have recently become more ambitious and offer additional toppings such as Nutella and jam. These 'fancy' flavours have yet to really catch on - they are unlikely to prove much of a threat to the classic 'banana and chocolate' roti.
8. Barbecued Pork and Stick Rice
These slices of grilled pork and lumps of fat are usually served skewered on wooden sticks, along with a small plastic bag of gelatinous sticky rice. Greasy, fattening and slightly dangerous (you need to be careful not to skewer you cheek as you munch down to the bottom of the sharp pointy stick); never the less, cheap, filling and aloi.
9. Chicken Fried Rice
No list of Thai street food would be complete without mentioning fried rice. Chicken fried rice is probably the most popular - usually accompanied with some sliced cucumber - but pork, beef and duck are also popular. If it's too plain for your taste, there are usually loads of sauces, herbs and chilis that you can use to spice it up.
10. Banana and Pineapple Wanton
Wonton wrappings are usually used for encasing shrimp and pork. A recent, cutting edge, culinary development in Thailand, is to use them to encase hot chunks of banana or pineapple. The wantons are then skewered on a stick, lightly dusted with castor sugar and dripped over with warm chocolate - very aloi and highly recommended.
This is just a sample of the numerous delicacies available on the streets of Thailand for less than the cost of a soft drink in most Western countries. Other favourites include grilled fish; tom yum (hot and sour soup); iced bubble tea; deep fried chicken, potato spirals and ice cream; mountains of fresh fruit, and even a Thai interpretation of Sushi. Go on, be brave and try it (but be careful of the chiles!).