If you decide to volunteer in Thailand with uVolunteer, you’ll have a wide choice of projects to choose from, including teaching English, sports or ICT, and working with disadvantaged communities to make a difference. You’ll also have lots of free time – our volunteers have three days off each week to take in the sights and sounds of this vibrant nation, including ancient ruins, sacred temples and bustling markets.
The markets of Bangkok are perhaps Thailand’s most famous, and there are literally dozens to visit selling all manner of wares and food items if you’re traveling to the capital for a weekend. Most towns also have their own markets, however, so wherever you’re based you’ll be able to experience the hustle and bustle of the bazaars without having to travel too far afield.
If you’re not planning on parting with too much cash when you explore Thailand’s markets, you should at least sample the divine street food sold at every market; salty, sweet, sour, spicy and savory flavors characterize Thai cuisine and some dishes combine all of these elements at once!
With so many mouth-watering meals to choose from, you’ll find picking out your favorite almost impossible; here we run through some of the best and most flavorful street foods to try when you volunteer in Thailand; whether you like sweet, salty, spicy or savory foods, you’ll find something on our list to tantalize your tastebuds.
Mango sticky rice
A traditional dessert mainly eaten during the summer months, mango sticky rice is known in Thai as hao niaow ma muang. Not to be confused with regular rice you’d eat as a part of a savory dish, sticky rice is sweet and served as a key component of puddings but also alongside many savory dishes in Thailand. Once the sticky rice is cooked, it’s topped with balls or slices of fresh mango and drizzled with a sweet coconut milk sauce.
Rich, creamy and sweet, panang curry is thought to derive its name from the city island Penang in neighboring Malaysia. Unlike the green and red Thai curries, panang curry is not as distinctly flavored, making it popular with international visitors. The key ingredients are coconut milk, kaffir lime leaves and peanuts, as well as curry paste made with chili, lemongrass, coriander, cumin, garlic and shrimp paste. The curry is commonly served with beef but can include other meats or tofu.
Spicy pork salad
Known as laab moo, spicy pork salad is a popular Thai street food, traditionally eaten with sticky rice. Combining sweet, spicy and sour flavors, the dish is made with ground pork cooked with garlic, lime juice and jalapenos, as well as sugar, herbs and peanuts. The cooked pork is usually served with a lime wedge for drizzling over the meat, lettuce for wrapping and the sweet rice for an explosion of flavors with every bite.
Tom sab is short for tom sab kra dook moo orn, which is Thai for hot and spicy soup. You’ve probably come across the dish as a starter in Thai restaurants or a sundry in takeaways, such is its popularity even in the Western world. Commonly made with pork ribs, tom sab combines lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, coriander, tomatoes, chilis and galangal from the ginger family for a warming sour and spicy flavour. Instead of pork, the soup can also be made with beef.
Green papaya salad
Known in Thai as som tum, green papya salad is one of the most popular dishes across the nation and certainly worth sampling at least once during your volunteer vacation. Made with unripe shredded papaya, chilis, beans, lime, garlic, shrimp or crab, som tum combines a variety of flavor elements and is often served with sticky rice for a bittersweet lingering taste on your tongue. Alternatives to rice include rice noodles and or raw vegetables to counter some of the strong flavors of the main meal.
Steamed fish with spicy tomato sauce
Another popular dish you’ll spot at the street food stands during your time in Thailand is steamed fish served with a spicy tomato sauce. Chicken is also frequently swapped out for fish in what is a low-fat, high-protein meal packed with flavor. Snappers or other firm white fish are usually scored and filled with a paste of garlic, coriander and pepper, cooked in a bamboo steamer and served with a tomato, onion and chili sauce combined with fish sauce and fresh lime juice.
Nam kaeng sai
For a sweet treat, try nam kaeng sai – a refreshingly icy pudding that perfectly accentuates its sweetness with a hint of salt. Multicolored chopped jelly, pieces of dough, water chestnuts, shaved ice and ginko beans are the essential ingredients in this delicious dessert, which is topped with slightly salty sweetened coconut cream but can also be served with caramel sauce and pieces of fruit.
The markets of Thailand are some of the best spots to sample street food but picking out the most delicious dishes is no mean feat! Step outside your comfort zone and try meals that combine a number of flavors for a tastebud sensation like no other. At uVolunteer, our personal chefs provide volunteers with three meals a day, but it’s very cheap and easy to sample the street food when you’re feeling peckish during weekend excursions or as a midday snack during your placement.
Your volunteer coordinators will be happy to recommend local street food stalls that sell cheap, tasty food and have a great reputation in terms of hygiene, authentic flavors and attentive service. You can find out more about volunteering in Thailand by downloading our program brochure.