Judging from the email inbox at Smiling Albino Intergalactic HQ here in Bangkok, we weren’t the only ones a bit shocked to read headlines saying that street food will be banned in the city that CNN recently said had the world’s best street food.
But here’s the good news – street food in Bangkok will not be banned. Stricter regulations are certainly a possibility, but an outright ban? Pshaw, we say!
As is often the case in Thailand, sweeping pronouncements from the powers that be are usually meant to fix, improve, or better daily life in some way. However, not every idea is as thoroughly vetted as perhaps it should be, and vocal opposition often forces Thailand’s government to put plans on pause and have a rethink.
In this case, the proposal was meant to combat the unruly sidewalks of Thailand’s capital, which are often clogged with food carts and pop-up restaurants of all types, but the announcement didn’t go over so well with Bangkok’s hungry masses.
Simply put, street food is part of a Bangkokian’s DNA. It’s part of the city’s character, and plays a big role in how people move, shop, socialize, and work. Everyone from young families to motorcycle taxi drivers to retirees to drunken college students to hungry tourists depend on cheap, easy-to-find street food, and to get rid of it in one fell swoop would not be a very wise move.
So, mere hours after the headlines were printed, the government stated that it never wanted an outright ban, but instead wanted to look at regulating and licensing the thousands of food stalls that dot the city. When you think about it from this angle, it makes more sense; as much as we love a street food feast, we can’t deny that Bangkok’s food sellers have gotten pretty brazen in their appropriation of the city’s sidewalks.
In addition to this, people often forget that not all Thai street food is sold from carts on the sidewalks of busy streets. There are many, many sois and side streets lined with shop houses, restaurants, and mobile carts that will not be affected by any new regulations – whatever they may be. Neighborhoods like Yaowarat (Chinatown), Pahurat (little India), Victory Monument, Ari, and many others will continue to serve up a stunning variety of food, even if they are required to tighten things up a bit.
So have no fear! The old adage of never being more than a stone’s throw away from a street food experience in Bangkok will remain true. Of course, it helps when you have a Smiling Albino guide leading you to the best (and often undiscovered) spots in the city to eat, but even if you just enjoy wandering by yourself, Bangkok will never disappoint when it comes to enjoying its famous culinary delights.