Last month the Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched an app aimed at helping foreign tourists discover Bangkok’s street food. The app called Street Food Bangkok compiles about 150 of the more than 8,000 estimated street food stalls into the app and includes quality photos and details on each stalls hours and location. I test ran the app for a few days on my iphone and have compiled a long list of shortcomings and few things I like about the app below.
Thai language is limited in the app and there is a disparity of stalls in many tourists areas like Siam.
Comic Sans and a Glitchy Street Food Map
I searched for the app in the itunes app store and when I found it named exactly ‘Street Food Bangkok’ I was still SURE it was the wrong app. What made me think I had found the wrong app? The amateurish use of comic sans font in the title and the interface which looked clunky even in the screenshots before downloading. Designers and artists beware, this app is not pretty on the eyes. There is also no mention of any endorsement by the Thai government and appears to have been produced by an individual developer (Theera Jiamkitrung).
The next big problem was that I was prompted to give the app access to ‘my current location while using the app.’ Besides being paranoid about the Thai junta knowing my location, giving this access actually rendered the map functionality of the app pretty useless. While it’s great the gps works to identify your location, when you use the map to venture to other parts of the city, the map resets to your current location after a few taps. This is particularly annoying if none of the street food stalls included in the app are in your immediate location. However, the biggest implication of this glitch means you can only geographically view all the stalls by either disabling your current location or using the very clunky search functionality.
Tip: Disable the access to your current location, but be sure it’s enabled on either your Apple or Google maps so you can still use the app’s location info to get directions to a particular stall.
Limited Thai Language and Street Stall Listing Functionality
When I first read about the app in the Bangkok Post, they reported the app was in Thai and English. Not only is this false, there are only a few places in the entire app where you can find Thai language at all. While the names of each stalls are in Thai, the only other inclusion of the country’s mother tongue is found in stall listings after clicking ‘Direction in Thai language for Taxi’. This is the clearest indication that the app was originally designed with the interest of short term visitors in mind.
This isn’t a giant deal breaker, but besides showing the one food photo for the stall’s main dish, the app doesn’t help tourists order, especially at a stall where no English menu is available (in other words, nearly all of them). You can’t even cut and paste the info from the stall listings, meaning you can’t search the title of a place, the name of a dish, or the address on google if you’re lost. Finally, if the app is really for pure tourists why does the search function ask you to identify the Thai district you want to search? I doubt many tourists will know their Banglampoo’s from Plubplachai’s.
Note: You can’t search for a stall you want to visit by name in either Thai or English. 🙁
Limited search features, but the app has a nice browse by photo option
Search by Street Food Stalls by Photos
Perhaps the best feature on the app is the grouping of all the listed locations by the dishes they are most famous for making. This happens under the app’s ‘menu’ tab where you will find common dishes such as boat noodles or pad thai photos which lead to stall listings. The info under each listing is helpful to know a little about the background of each stall. For example, users are informed the eatery Yusup Pochana (ยูซุปโภชนา) “uses the best spices from Guatemala and Egypt…” when they find the listing under Islamic cuisine. This will have to suffice for in-app info on each stall which doesn’t currently have any ratings system, nor forward users to more information from English language resources, such as expert Thai blogger Leela from She Simmers (author of Simple Thai Food) or Chow from Bangkok Glutton (author of Thailand’s Best Street Food).
Should You Download ‘Street Food Bangkok’?
Maybe. The app isn’t terrible, but needs much improvement to be of much use to both tourists and the city’s street food loving residents, foreign and Thai. If you’re a tourist staying in a hotel near the Chao Praya river, however, this app may be a great help. Even with all the shortcomings, there is hope for future updates of the app. The press releases about the app have suggested they will try to develop apps for Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, but I think they should work to test and solicit feedback from tourists using the app before expanding to more locations. Besides improving usability, adding more stalls around Bangkok would be the other obvious way to quickly improve the app. For advanced street food seekers, street food guide books and the Foursquare app still reigns supreme for finding the best street side eats in Bangkok.