Bangkok loses street food culture, gains cleaner footpaths

Street food in Bangkok.
Street food in Bangkok.  Photo: iStock

Is this the end of Bangkok as we know it? It could well be if the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration has anything to do with it.

Fairfax Media reported today that authorities are intending to ban street food vendors city-wide. Chef David Thompson (Nahm in Bangkok; Long Chim in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth) remains sceptical.

"There's one thing you don't do with the Thais, and that's get between them and their food."

Thompson believes the operation will be unsuccessful, especially as it moves from the more westernised parts of Bangkok, to the purely Thai areas of the city.

Bangkok's thriving street food scene is a deep part of the city's rich tapestry – sitting on a little plastic stool, pressed side by side with office workers and street hustlers, everyone sweating over their soup.

Bangkok's thriving street food scene is a deep part of the city's rich tapestry.
Bangkok's thriving street food scene is a deep part of the city's rich tapestry. Photo: iStock

Meals by the side of the road are the great human equaliser in a town like Bangkok. To take that away from the people who eat like this every day could be a disaster. Especially among the less fortunate.

"I know the Thais," says Thompson. "And street food's not a fad, it's a community need. If you're poor in Thailand and you live in a small, pokey room, you don't have room to cook. If they take away street food, the poor will have nowhere to eat. It's a desperately needed part of the community."

The idea, seemingly, is to move vendors from the street into little shopfronts which will tidy up the footpaths, but will also push prices up. It's the sort of thing that's sparked revolutions across history. "The Thais," says Thompson, "are anarchic. I can't see this lasting for long. Taking the soul out of Bangkok is like taking the lockout laws into Kings Cross, turning a rich and vibrant city in Wowser Town."