You can’t go too far down most streets in Bangkok before passing a street vendor or five standing behind a crackling charcoal grill laden with some sort of marinated protein.
Fresh squid diced up and skewered on long wooden sticks like kebabs, tentacles often on one set of sticks and meaty chunks on another. Whole river fish stuffed with stalks of lemongrass and covered in salt. Fish balls, meat balls, chicken balls, pork balls. Miniature hot dogs. Chicken gizzards. Entrails. I’ve even seen — just once or twice, mind you — a vendor carefully carving up and grilling a rat.
Many vendors tend to have just one or two specific meats at a time on their grill, but sometimes you pass one with a something-for-everyone spread like this one, above, that has just about all of the aforementioned proteins available. I’m a pescetarian, so the only morsels I’ve tasted are the fish and seafood, but for those first-time visitors to Bangkok eager to tear into grilled meat on the street, but who might be a little worried about potentially getting sick, the best advice I can give you is to simply use common sense and survey your surroundings before you eat.
There’s always the chance of ingesting something that doesn’t agree with your stomach, whether you buy it in the street or in an upscale gourmet market. People eat street food in Bangkok every day and don’t get sick; some get violently ill. That’s just the way it is, but that shouldn’t scare you off, only instill some basic caution.
If the meat (or anything else, for that matter) looks dry or discolored or like it’s been sitting in the sun all day, move on — you’ll have plenty of other nearby options. Make sure it’s cooked all the way through. Get in line behind a crowd of locals — high turnover on meats is generally good, obviously, though “following the locals” is not a rock-solid guarantee of tastiness or cleanliness since a given vendor could be busy simply as a result of an ideal, convenient location, such as outside an office building.
You should also plan to work your way into street food: start with small bites and portions, let your body get accustomed to the new flavors and bacteria, then get more adventurous (and have a bottle of anti-diarrheal pills handy just in case).
With all of that said, whether it’s meats or fruits or colorful sushi covered by plastic wrap and sitting out in the sun all day — actually, go ahead and skip the street sushi — sampling street food in Bangkok is one of the great joys of visiting this wonderful city, so don’t be afraid to do some taste testing. Just use your head.