A Beginners Guide to the Secrets of Thai Street Kitchens
As a traveller to Thailand, you are often confronted with a multitude of food options when you are in markets or around the streets; often it is quite challenging. We have asked Feast Thailand’s General Manager, Leigh Higgins, to explain about one integral part of Thai Street Food culture.
One of the most popular street kitchens or vendors is the Dtam Sang vendor. These guys can whip you up a fantastic meal in an instant, from a repertoire often exceeding 100 dishes. The name Dtam Sang (sounds like dum sung) means ‘made to order’.
Fresh ingredients at a traditional Dtam Sang vendor This is the Thai version of à la carte, where these cooks push out amazing dishes at an astonishing pace. In many restaurants around the world the thought of customers picking and choosing what goes into any dish is frowned upon, yet in Thailand, this is totally acceptable at one of these street food vendors.
Their main aim is to make you something you are going to love. You can recognise a Dtam Sang vendor very easily, as they have all of their ingredients on show. Proteins like shellfish, meat, seafood or tofu are normally on ice to keep them fresh, with a huge variety of vegetables also on display. There are usually one or two large woks, with burners resembling something coming out of the tail of a jet. There is almost always the heady smell of garlic streaming out into the atmosphere.
The flaming wok is a common sight at a Dtam Sang kitchen A Dtam Sang vendor will normally have a menu, possibly with lots pictures with Thai and/or English descriptions of popular Thai dishes. This certainly helps however sometimes the pictures may have something that you don’t like, or you see too much red, which may mean it’s spicy; perhaps the English translation does not sound appetizing. Just remember that these cooks can cook much, much more than what is on their menu; whatever you desire. Next time you are at a Dtam Sang vendor, ask yourself the following five questions: What do I feel like? A stir fry or curry, a salad, a soup or something deep fried What protein do I want? Fish, beef, squid, prawns, tofu, pork, shellfish or chicken
Do I want vegetables or herbs? Onion, tomato, cabbage, morning glory, coriander, Chinese celery Do I want carbs with the dish? Rice or noodles What sauce do I want, if any? Oyster sauce, fish sauce, chicken stock, coconut milk or cream What about the language barrier, I hear you ask; how do I order? Don’t let this stop you.
These cooks are ready to please, so pointing to what you want is definitely OK. What if I don’t want it hot, is your next question? Commit these two words to memory – Mai Phet; not spicy! The best tip for eating street food is to order it freshly cooked, making Dtam Sang one of the best options on the streets. Often people worry about the protein and vegetables on ice; is it fresh? The answer is, yes it is. These vendors set up just before meal times and the food immediately goes on display on ice, with only a small amount of protein displayed.
This means it is kept cool and fresh. Popular proteins sell out quickly, so they will not be on display long enough to go bad. Here are my top dishes that I order to taste
Pad Prik Gaeng • a dry-fried red curry with protein & vegetables, Pad Pak Boong Moo Grop • stir-fried morning glory with crispy, deep fried pork belly and extra garlic – delicious!
Tom Yum • a hot ‘n’ sour soup; just add a protein Pad Graphrao • a spicy stir fry with holy basil, Pad Thai • the world-famous Thai noodle dish. Try adding crispy pork belly, Khao Pat • fried rice, again with crispy pork belly or the protein of your choice.