In Thailand, food is never far away although some overseas visitors are reluctant to eat street food or buy from hawker stalls because of concerns that the food may be unhygienic. That’s a bit of a shame, but at the same time I remember it was something I was concerned about myself when I first visited Thailand. However, as I soon discovered all those years ago, there is an alternative source of cheap and hygienic food available in every Thai town and city; the inside food court. You will find a version of the Thai food court in just about every shopping mall in Thailand. You will also find food courts at some of the bigger transport hubs such as Bangkok’s Hualamphong train station and Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport. Very often they are located on the ground floor or lower level of the building or mall.
How they work
Most indoor food courts in Thailand tend to follow the same layout and principal. There is a central seating area with tables and chairs with the food vendors forming a square around the outside. At most food courts in Thailand, the vendors don’t accept cash. Instead, you pay for your food with vouchers or coupons that you purchase separately from a desk or counter positioned at the entrance to the food court. Before you decide what value of tokens you require, you can always have a quick look around the food counters to see how much your meal is likely to come to. Any unused vouchers can be refunded at the same counter you bought them from after you’ve finished eating. Individual vouchers are typically to the value of 5, 10 or 20 Baht. Just hand over the appropriate amount in vouchers to the vendor when you order your food. You will see trays and there is also a separate area for cutlery. The vendor will usually provide the plates or bowls for the food. Napkins and toothpicks can normally be picked up from the area where you pay for the vouchers. Once you’ve finished eating, just leave your plates on the table and after you go the staff will clear the table ready for the next customer.
How much money will I need?
Just as an example, a simple meal such as khao man gai (chicken and rice) would typically be 30 or 40 Baht. Add an extra 10 Baht for a small bottle of drinking water. Remember, if you do buy too many coupons you can refund them once you’ve finished eating. Similarly, if you want to eat more than you originally planned, just go back to the counter and purchase more vouchers.
Are the descriptions of the food in English?
In many cases (especially in places like Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Phuket) the food is labelled in Thai and English with a clearly marked price. The vendors don’t always speak English, but it’s easy enough to order food and there’s no need to feel intimidated if you can’t speak Thai. Don’t worry if you do come across a food court that just has writing in Thai. The food is clearly displayed and you can simply select from the vendor that has the most appealing looking food.
Where do I find the nearest food court?
If you are in Thailand, head for the nearest shopping mall and you will almost certainly find a food court. They are also sometimes attached to stores like Robinson and Central as well as some of the bigger supermarket chains like Big C and Tesco Lotus.