Bangkok to Ban World-Renowned Street Food

Originally published on Channel NewsAsia on April 18, 2017

In their crusade against chaos and for 'order', Thai officials want to 'clean up' the streets of Bangkok by banning all street vendors and food stalls by the end of the year. 

TRANSCRIPT

The smell. The sizzle. The sights.

Food is plentiful in Thailand and there are few places in the world that are more food-obsessed than here.

If you come to Bangkok, chances are that you will run into a street food stall on the sidewalk, offering lots and lots of delicacies. There’s no doubt that these places add to the charm and flavour of this city.

After all, Thai street food is often named 'the best in the world'. But soon, these places may have to serve their last order.

The Bangkok Metropolitan Administration is evicting streetside shops from several locations, citing health and hygiene concerns and - in their own words - 'to reclaim seized pavement space' from street vendors that are blocking the paths of pedestrians.

Authorities say internationally well-known areas such as Yaowarat, which is Bangkok's Chinatown, and Khao San Road are next on their list.

City Hall has also announced that it wants to enforce the ban across the whole of Bangkok by the end of the year.

Vendors, locals and visitors are now wondering what to do next if these stalls really do vanish.

"Of course this will have an impact," says a vendor that has been selling wontons, sausages and meatbealls for five years. "If we stop selling, I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know how to sell ((if banned)). May be I’ll stop and work somewhere else - may be as a security guard, who knows?"

These stalls are an inexpensive and quick meal option and for many, they are the only affordable places to dine for no more than 1 or 2 US dollars a meal.

"If they don’t sell, the costs of living would surely rise by half. Because we would have to go eat at malls and food courts," explains a pedestrian, who often dines at street food stalls. "And reasonably priced food courts are becoming less and less and malls are getting more expensive. So for a just a little bit more [money], I might as well eat at a proper restaurant then."

Authorities are mulling plans for alternative locations for street food vendors, similar to hawkers centres in Singapore.

But many are wondering if the Thai government’s quest to clean up the streets of Bangkok could also sweep away parts of its soul and culture.

Saksith Saiyasombut, Channel NewsAsia, Bangkok