Thai people love food. You can always find freshly made food 24 hours a day from a variety of eateries on every block. Here is an overview of the variety of food sources that you will find in Thailand.
In Thailand, food carts, like restaurants, have loyal customers. Because these street-side-cooks make the same 1-4 dishes every day, they are experts at that meal, sometimes jealously guard their technique and can make incredible food. Some of these carts stay permanently in one place, some move around from street to street. Many carts are pushed around the residential areas with the owner yelling or banging a distinct bell, horn or bamboo clapper to announce the food.
When I was growing up, the noodle cart on our street would come by with this sound of the bamboo sticks tapping. I knew, if I wanted noodles, I had better be ready at the door and yell when he came by. Where my sister lives now, there's an icecream cart that comes by and plays a song on their radio that causes the all the dogs in the neighborhood to howl.
If you were in Thailand five to ten years ago, you would see more food carts or kiosks filling the streets of Bangkok. With the traffic jams and sidewalks clogged up by these vendors and their customers, the government limited the push carts to certain areas on certain days. However, as long as there is demand, the carts will survive. Now it is sometimes a cat and mouse game with the police.
Tricycle with Bin (like an Ice-cream man) and Motorcycle Noodles
With traffic jams, the motorcycles are a lot easier to maneuver around the traffic. In the back of the motorcycle, there is a stove with food on top. These motorcycles can go just about anywhere. There is one on my sister's street offering dry noodles with topping (goi tiew lohd). You can get a small bag that probably fills up your dessert plate for 20 baht (1999: about $0.50)Restaurants and Food Stalls
Fast Food in Malls
In most shopping malls, there is a food court, similar to the US malls, but 20 times as many choices. Having been pushed off the streets by the government, many carts have gone to the malls. In most malls, customers buy coupons at a counter and use the coupons to exchange for food.
This is where the working Thai men and women go for lunch. These places are usually jam packed during lunch hour. It is usually right on the street with a 10 x 12 room, with small tables. You get a bowl of noodles (goi tiew or ba mee moo dang) for about 25 baht ($0.60).
Restaurants are frequently much larger in Thailand than in the U.S. Typically there are garden restaurants, big restaurants with few branches, and chain restaurants.
All Night Eateries
These start with dinner and go until the morning. Their name "Tho Ruung" means "Surfing the dawn".
Eating at Home
Traditionally, the kitchen was located in the back of the house. Frequently it was in an open area covered by a roof, but open to the outdoors. In the old days we used a clay stove and charcoal. People would start the fire with small pieces of dry coconut peel, then wood chips and charcoal. As you can imagine, cooking must have beed pretty smoky. The combination of smoke and food smells must have determined the kitchens location and design. My grandfather's house still has an open kitchen with a charcoal stove.
Today, many people in Bangkok and big cities have western kitchens inside their houses. Also many have two kitchens, one for the maid to prepare everyday food and one for the owner to prepare a small meal. Stoves are almost always gas and have special burners for woks that let a round bottom wok sit on the burner . Its also common to find stand-alone propane stoves with a gas-jet pattern like what you'd find in a commercial-style range here in the US.