Eating healthy can be difficult if you live in Thailand, especially if you want to eat street food, which is the cheapest and arguably the most popular way to eat Thai food while in Thailand.

But much of the street food is loaded with salts,  processed sugars, and artificial flavors and additives. Not exactly healthy fare by any means.  If you are following a Paleo diet, which mandates you avoid all starchy carbs, dairy, and processed foods, Thailand can be a bit of a nightmare. Yes, a number of the dishes are vegetable based (like the salads) but often include heavy doses of processed ingredients.

Still there are a number of Paleo friendly street foods that are pretty healthy for the most part.

Here’s our list of the Top 10 Healthiest Paleo Friendly Street Food Dishes. These are a list of foods that you can find pretty much anywhere from STREET CART VENDORS. You can find more variety (and other healthy options at street side restaurants or actual sit-in restaurants), but street cart vendors offer the quickest and cheapest meal options available in Thailand.  Keep in mind this list is by no mean’s exhaustive — there are other local street food dishes that are Paleo friendly, but this list represents some of the more widely available and popular street foods you’ll find by the side of the road. We are also working on a list of Paleo-friendly restaurant foods which will greatly expand the choices.

Want to eat healthy in Thailand? Then check out our Top 15 Healthiest Thai Food Dishes for comprehensive breakdown of some of the healthiest Thai Food dishes

Gai Yang (Marinated Grilled Thai Chicken)

Cost: 40-100 baht

Find it at: Street Stalls and Local Style Restaurants

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

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You’ll find this Thai street food staple being grilled by the side of the road pretty much anywhere there are street stalls, between lunch and dinner.

What it is: It’s the Thai version of BBQ chicken; usually marinated chicken slow-grilled over a charcoal fire. Gai Yang (you might also find it spelled as Kai Yang) is delicious, low-carb, and Paleo friendly, depending on how picky you are going to get over the sauce used to marinate the chicken.

Why you should eat it: Gai Yang is about as protein heavy a dish you ar e going to find in Thailand, and if you are trying to have a solid base of protein in your meal, Gai Yang is going to be your go-to source. It’s also fairly cheap, with a drumstick + thigh costing you between $1 to $1.50. If you’re lucky, you can sometimes find leaner cuts of meat being BBQ’d, such as the whole chicken breast.

How Paleo is Gai Yang: this dish is pretty Paleo friendly with the only issue being the type of marinade being used to cook the chicken. You’ll probably find high amounts of sugar + sodium + processed sauces being used as part of the marinade — a no no back home if you are on a strict Paleo diet. However, you’ll have to loosen up a bit in Thailand if you are not going to cook your own food. But considering this is only a sauce, you are not shoving vast amounts of processed stuff into your body here. If you want to minimize how much ‘sauce’ you end up eating, rip off the skin and you are pretty much on track.

Local eating tips: if you are really picky about not getting any questionable flavorings and chemicals, remove the skin from the  chicken. Opt for chicken breast cuts (if you can find them) which have less fat and higher protein amounts. Don’t dip the chicken in the sweet sauce they give you with the chicken. This dish pairs very well with some sort of salad dish, especially Som Tam. Kai Yang is usually found at street vendors. These vendors will usually also offer Papaya Salad. Since you won’t be eating any rice or noddles with it, I suggest ordering Som Tam (Papaya Salad) to get your non-starchy carbs in. You can also easily find the pork version of this dish, which is called Moo Yang (grilled pork). I prefer the chicken because it’s leaner, but the pork is tasty change over the chicken if you have it too often.

Nutritional Information: chicken + thigh, about 350 calories with 30-40 grams of protein. Half a Chicken, about 500 calories with about 100 grams of protein. Double breast about 500 calories and 50-60 grams of protein

Pla Pao (ปลาเผา)  (Salt-Crusted Grilled Fish with Lemongrass)

Cost: 60-100 baht

Find it at: Street Stalls

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

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If you smell grilling fish as you walk down a Thai street, it’s probably Pla Pao, a delectable cheap street food available on every corner

What it is: A slowly grilled whole fish stuffed with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and completely coated with salt to seal in the juices.

Why you should eat it: A whole fish cooked over an outdoor BBQ over low heat stuffed with fresh Thai herbs? If you don’t want to eat this, you’re pretty much crazy or allergic to seafood! This is a great way to get some absolutely delicious, cheap protein and you can find this served up pretty much anywhere, lunch or dinner, where there are street stalls.

How Paleo is Pla Pao: This dish is very Paleo. It’s basically just a whole fish stuffed with herbs — there is nothing processed added to it. There’s a lot of salt rubbed on the surface, but if this is a problem for you, simply remove the skin and you are good to go.

Local eating tips: You can also find other variations of the ‘grilled fish’ street food. Very popular is the grilled catfish, which lacks the salt but has a lot of small bones.

Pla Duk Yang (BBQ Catfish)

Cost: 30-60 baht

Find it at: Street Stalls

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

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Grilled catfish, stuffed with Thai herbs. If you haven’t tried catfish before, it’s time to give it a shot with this delectable and super cheap street food. Probably the cheapest source of protein in Thailand if you can ignore the catfish head!

What it is: BBQ river catfish, slowly cooked. The fish is often stuffed with Thai herbs such as lemon grass and kaffir leaves.

Why you should eat it: A cheap nutritious protein source IF you can ignore all the little bones and catfish head, which can be a bit off-putting to westerners. If you want cheap grilled protein, this is the cheapest you are going to find. It’s actually pretty tasty and it lacks the salt of the Pla Pao (salt grilled white fish).

How Paleo is Pla Duk yang: Broadly Paleo. It’s basically just a small pond catfish stuffed with herbs, braised with a Thai sweet sauce mix. There may be something like soy sauce and / or sugar in the mix, but if you ignore that trace amount, it’s a good source of healthy protein. You can always remove the skin if you wish, though the flavors will still soak through into the meat.

SEE ALSO:  The Benefits of Intermittent Fasting

Local eating tips: Remove the skin if you want less of the ‘sugar.’ Also be wary of the tiny bones — these catfish are loaded with them!

Satay Gai (Braised/Marinated Chicken Skewers with Peanut Sauce)

Cost: 10-15 baht per skewer

Find it at: Street Stalls and Local Restaurants

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

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Walk by any night market and you’ll know Satay Gai is being cooked simply from the enticing smell. Satay is one of Thailand’s most famous ‘international’ dish.

What it is: thin strips of chicken (usually breast) grilled to perfection on a BBQ, based on a house style sauce (usually some sort of curry-style spicy paste or a sweet/salty BBQ sauce). Satay Gai is a popular dish — the locals love it just as much as the foreigners. You can find Satay Gai both served by street vendors and at most restaurants. Any medium sized night market will have a vendor or two who serves up Satai Gai. Satay is actually a style of grilled meat. You can opt for pork or chicken versions. However, the pork version tends to be very fatty (though it tastes amazing) grilled with a sweet sauce. Definitely less Paleo friendly, so you should stick with the chicken version.

Why You Should Eat It: outside of the Kai Yang (BBQ chicken) and grilled/poached whole fish, Satay Gai is the best source of QUALITY protein you are going to find served (higher protein, less fat, fewer flavorings). The thin strips are usually chicken breast and they are usually only lightly flavored with either spices or some basting sauce (unlike Kai Yang which is often soaked in a marinade) while being cooked.

How Paleo is Satay Gai: very Paleo friendly, if you avoid the included peanut sauce they always give you. Depending one what sauces are used to baste the Satay. In my experience, there are two kinds of Satay — one version opts to put more spice on it only bastes a slightly sweet sauce on and another version really soaks the satay in a marinade. Obviously, the first version is more Paleo, but at the end of the day it’s lean protein with minimal sauces.

Local Eating Tip: Satay Gai varies from restaurant to restaurant. The best Satay is made from chicken breast and is NOT soaked in sauce but basted. So I suggest you try different eateries to find one that offers the best quality, then make that your go-to place for Satay. Absolutely avoid the dipping peanut sauce they give you WITH the chicken as that’s not Paleo in the least (peanuts + an assortment of artificial flavorings). It’s my experience that you have to keep a close eye on the person making the Satay as sometimes they don’t  just hand you a little bowl of sauce, they actually pour it over the top of the skewers! The skewers are quite small (as thin as a cardboard box and about the length of two of your fingers) so you’ll need to eat about 8-12 of them to really get your 30-40 grams of protein in. I can usually eat a solid 12-20 if I really want to.

Nutritional information: depends on the size (which is usually pretty small). Each skewer is probably around 20-30 calories and 4-6 grams of protein.

Som Tam (ส้มตำไทย) (Papaya Salad)

Cost: 30-40 baht

Find it at: Everywhere

(PROTEIN LIGHT, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES, GLUTTON FREE)

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This is a stable part of the Thai diet and one of the most well-known Thai food dishes internationally. There’s quite a bit of variance in the way Som Tam is prepared from region to region, even restaurant to restaurant. It’s true that no two som tam dishes taste exactly the same!

What it is: sliced green papaya with Thai chilies, lemon juice, fish sauce, tomatoes, and garlic all thrashed and pounded with a pestle. There are a many varieties of Som Tam so the ingredients can change from restaurant to restaurant. The typical Som Tam dish is spicy, with lots of Thai chilies added in.

Why you should eat it: besides being absolutely delicious with subtle sour papaya and lemon juice, the saltiness of fish sauce, balanced by the spicy Thai chilies, Som Tam packs a whole lot of nutritional goodness. You’ve got a virtual medley of micro-nutrients packed into this super salad, from the Vitamin C and A from the chilies and papaya and a healthy dose of magnesium. The chilies will boost your metabolism as well.  The standard Papaya Salad usually comes with dried shrimps and crushed peanuts.  You can opt for more protein heavy versions of papaya salad by asking for the egg and fish variants.

How Paleo is Som Tam: This dish is Paleo friendly, depending on the type of ingredients used. The main issue is the peanuts (which you can remove) and the fish sauce used. You get your non-starchy carbs from the green papaya and a boatload of micronutrients and minerals from the other veggies (tomatoes, lime juice, garlic). You get a little bit of protein from the dried shrimps and more if you opt for eggs or fish added to it. The main issue you will have is the fish sauce. Technically, fish sauce is Paleo, when minimally processed, being just made from FISH and salt. However, if you just pick the cheap off-the-shelf version of fish sauce from a Thai supermarket, it’s likely to contain non-paleo ingredients such as Hydrolyzed wheat protein, Fructose, and the like. If you are making your own Som Tam, you can buy Red Boat Fish Sauce which Paleo Dieters say is paleo friend. But if you are eating at a regular street food vendor or cheap restaurant in Thailand, expect the fish sauce to not be Paleo. 

Local Eating Tip: There are so many versions of Som Tam, I’m not even going to list them. You can switch up the flavors by asking for Mango instead of Papaya. If you don’t like the heat, ask for ‘Mai Pet’ which means no spice. Or if you want really spicy, ask for Pet Pet, which the Thai’s will take as a challenge to make it hot as hell. IF you want MORE protein, ask for Som Tam Kai Kem which means papaya salad with salted duck egg. You’ll get a lot more protein with the egg on over just shrimps. Keep in mind the salted duck egg will CHANGE the base flavor of the salad though.

SEE ALSO:  The Strength Training for Muay Thai Guide

Nutritional Information: about 200 calories and 7 grams of protein

Yam Mamuang (green mango salad)

Find it at: Local Restaurants

Cost: 40-60 baht

(PROTEIN LIGHT, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

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Similar to Som Tam, but uses green mangoes instead of papaya. A fragrant dish that has a distinct flavor that’s every bit as good as its more famous cousin, Som Tam.

What it Is: a fantastic dish that tastes somewhat like Som Tam but the green sour mangos change up the flavor profile quite a bit. This dish is sourer than Som Tam, but the sourness is offset by the slight salty sweetness of the other flavors. By default, it comes spicy, but you can control that level if you ask the server for less or more hot. The dish can come with peanuts or with cashews — so be warned if you are avoiding peanuts.

Why you should eat it: Similar ingredients as Som Tam but with a dramatically different taste from the sour mangos. I personally like this dish more than Som Tam as the sour is balanced more with the sweet hot of the other herbs/sauces. This is a great way to get some TASTY non-starchy carbs into your Paleo diet.

How Paleo is yam mamuang: Paleo friendly for the most part if you relax your standards. Sometimes some palm sugar may be added to add sweetness to the dish, the fish sauce may not be Paleo, brand depending, and they may add peanuts. You can request cashews or no nuts and ask for no sugar. The fish sauce though makes the dish, so you’ll have to live with that.

Local Eating Tip: this dish tends to be pretty small, so if you are trying to get all your carbs in one go, you may want to opt for another non-starchy carb dish. There is only a little bit of protein (from the brine shrimp), but there are other variations if you request. Sometimes you can ask for duck egg to be added or Thai sour sausages to boost the protein level.

Nutritional Profile: 150-200 calories

Sai Ooah (Northern Thai Sausage)

Find it at: Street Vendors

Cost: 40-100 baht per sausage

(PROTEIN LIGHT, CARB LIGHT, LOW CALORIES)

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A northern street food dish that’s jam packed with flavor. You haven’t tried a sausage till you’ve tried Sai Ooah. 

What it is: fresh minced pork that’s combined with fragrant Thai herbs such a garlic, lemongrass, and chilies.

Why you should eat it: the taste of course, and the fact that there’s a decent amount of protein and you know you are getting real meat, not processed mechanically regurgitated meat. These are fresh sausages, not that processed crap you find in packaged sausages. This is hands down one of my favorite Thai foods of all time.

How Paleo is Sai Ooah: Paleo friendly if you relax your standards a bit. There may be a bit of processed sugar mixed in and soy sauce is typically used. If you are are relaxing your diet a bit though, Sai Ooah is a fantastic way to get some tasty protein and sample one of Thai’s best-tasting street foods.

Khai Yat Sai (ไข่ยัดไส้) (Thai Stuffed Omelet)

Find it at: Restaurants and street vendors

Cost: 20-40 baht 

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

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A wonderfully tasty, easy to find everywhere, cheap street food dish. This is an easy source of cheap protein. It’s best to avoid the sauce they pour on it.

What it is: An omelet stuffed with meat and Thai flavorings. It typically comes with minced beef or pork or chicken as filling, with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, garlic, shallots, carrots and a number of other herbs. The eggs are mixed and fried then the toppings are poured in the middle and the eggs folded over. It often comes topped with oyster sauce or fish sauce.

Why you should eat it: It’s easy to find (literally at every restaurant or at many street stalls) and it’s CHEAP CHEAP. It’s also pretty damn tasty. It’s not enough for a full meal, likely, but pairs well with some carb-based dish for a whole meal.

How Paleo is Khai Yat Sai: You get a good source of protein (it usually comes with about 3 eggs, so that’s 21 grams of protein about). While this is not the ‘healthiest’ dish in terms of protein and fat ratios (and it is pretty salty from the salt added and possible soy sauce added), it’s still a great way to get some tasty protein in. Just be aware that the dish often comes topped with oyster sauce or fish sauce, so if you want to make it more Paleo, ask for no oyster sauce and no soy sauce (which is added to the eggs when it’s cooking sometimes).

Nutritional Profile: 300 calories and 25 grams of protein, 18 grams of fat, 11 grams of carbs

Tod Mon Pla (Fish Cakes)

Find it at: Restaurants and street vendors

Cost: 20-40 baht 

(PROTEIN HEAVY, CARB LIGHT, MODERATE CALORIES)

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A tasty snack that’s somewhat Paleo friendly if you don’t mind the fat.

What it is: Fish cakes made from Thai herbs, chili paste, Thai chilies, minced white fish, fish sauce, and string beans then boiled in oil.

Why you should eat it: Because it’s tasty and has a decent amount of protein, as street food snack food goes.

How Paleo is Tod Mon Pla: While fish cakes are not the most healthy of dishes because they are deep fried, they are made from mostly fish with some mash veggies mixed in. So they are moderate protein with no starchy carbs. Fish sauce is added and some Thai chefs will add some Palm sugar to the mix. So if you are not eating strict Paleo (no processed foods), then relax your diet a bit and enjoy this protein rich, low carb snack.

Local eating tips: Tod Mon Pla usually comes with a dipping sauce that’s not so Paleo friendly — it’s usually loaded with processed sugar and contains peanuts — so if you want to be more healthy, avoid the dip.

Nutritional Profile: (Per 4-5 cakes) 200 calories and 28 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, 5 grams of carbs

Fruit

Find it at: Street cart vendors

Cost: 10-20 baht per bag

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There are loads of carts that sell local fresh fruits. This is a great way to get some fresh fruit into the diet. You can find mango, guava, watermelon, coconut, custard apples, pineapple, and jackfruit served up.  Don’t expect to find North American fruits, however.
The fruits served on from street stalls are all local fruits grown in Thailand. Keep in mind the price can vary depending on how touristy the area is.