Bangkok Street Food TK

Bangkok's street food future? A vendor at a wet market on the Thonburi side of the river

Bangkok’s street food future? A vendor at a wet market on the Thonburi side of the river

I come from a family of hypochondriacs. My sister has gone to the emergency room for an undiagnosed case of SARS (it wasn’t SARS) and because she thought she was going deaf (she wasn’t going deaf). My mother, who thinks she is suffering from all sorts of strange ailments and visits the doctor about once a week, is always being told how healthy she is and will probably live to the age of 100. But of my family’s doom-filled women, I am of course the queen. I diagnose myself with a host of diseases on the regular, with the help of the trusty old Internet. You know when you hear about strange people who are always visiting sites like WebMD and you think, “At least I’m not one of them”? Well, here I are. I’m one of them.

Here, let’s look up my Google search history. A quick scan comes up with … “Invincible” soundtrack (what was I thinking?); chronic pulmonary disease; Eat Me menu; tapeworm symptoms; tapeworm in brain; reddit Game of Thrones night’s king theory; asthma symptoms; Jack White dancing gif; jack white ass (THESE TWO TOPICS ARE RELATED OK); stroke symptoms; stroke test FAST; Ledu head chef Ton (what is this dude’s last name? I still can’t find it); Q&A Bar Bangkok; fluttering in stomach; tapeworm symptoms.

Looking through that, it would seem like I think I am going to die — of a stroke, serious respiratory problems, a tapeworm in my brain, or something I haven’t thought up yet, like stress from worrying about these things. But it’s not really about dying, per se. It’s more about maintaining a constant, strong vigilance: if you think about these things enough, they won’t happen, right? Isn’t that the way the world works?

A Chinatown gravy noodle vendor's mise-en-place

A Chinatown gravy noodle vendor’s mise-en-place

So when I think about Sukhumvit 38 eventually closing (yes, still), and how this could be a harbinger of how Bangkok is going to treat its street food in the future, it’s more of that … just thinking, a kind of vigilance, a mental chant to ward off the worst case scenario. In fact, at this very moment, the closure of Sukhumvit 38’s street food area is not even that bad. The entire left side of the soi has found a home in the food court of the Gateway Mall near Ekamai. The right side has not, but the little sub-soi where the pad Thai guy and mango sticky rice ladies are located doesn’t even have to move. And the landlords have done well out of all of it, making off with a rumored 2 billion baht. I’m not even gonna hate on these landlords. I mean, if I was presented with 2 billion baht, I would do exactly the same thing, I’m not gonna lie. In fact, if you have $76.13, you can have this very blog.

But I’m not going to stick my head in the sand and say things might stay the way they’ve always been forever more. I can tell which way the wind is blowing. Let me think of another cliche: I can read the writing on the wall. We are now at that particular point in time when landlords are going to sell their properties, where places are going to gentrify and be developed. We could see Bangkok following the Singapore model, where vendors are all herded into certain “centers” located throughout the city. This model sucks for several reasons: it would drastically cut down on the number of vendors, hence limiting creativity and, ultimately, the drive to compete. The food would be set in stone, and never evolve. We could go the Tokyo way, where everything is basically ushered indoors, unless it’s earmarked for tourists or very, very drunk people. You can see where the problem lies in that. And finally, we could do like Hong Kong and obliterate it almost completely. I couldn’t even tell you how much that would blow.  Where would everyone eat? Not everyone can afford eating in yet another godforsaken shopping mall, and a big part of why people visit Bangkok would be lost.

What I hope for is that, as Bangkok progresses, a typically “Thai” solution for street food’s future will develop, with the same brand of creativity, spontaneity, eye for convenience and mild contempt for regulation that Thai people have always displayed. Hopefully, they will display it at a place somewhere close to me in the near future.

The work station for a Sukhumvit som tum vendor

The work station of a Sukhumvit som tum vendor

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Bangkok Street Food TK

  1. My thoughts exactly. Thanks for articulating. With more malls in the pipeline — one is now rising where the Suan Lum night market and storied Lumpini Boxing Stadium once stood — only means there’s no turning back. Bangkok now belongs to the tourists and the elite. Just like Manhattan, the working and creative/artists classes — the heart and soul of the city — were forced out long ago. Let’s hope someone, somewhere out there has the audacity to take a stand. Preserving Bangkok’s heritage and fostering economic growth should not be a zero sum game.

    • Maybe we will get our own Brooklyn, ha ha.

    • I’d also like to say that Manhattan still has street food, like taco trucks, even khao mun gai (!), egg sandwiches that you can buy for $3 with a cup of coffee — important given the highway robbery that is Starbucks. You need street food because everyone needs an affordable and quick option. I hope Bangkok keeps that in mind.

  2. I feel like the disappearance of those kind of places is a serious downgrade for the entire neighbourhood. I used to live in Rachadaphisek close to the Robinson Department store there. While the department store side of things were nothing to write home about, their food court was absolutely amazing. Two years ago they closed the whole thing down. The neighbourhood still has some good food options, but it went from amazing to ‘still okay’.

    Maybe, as a city, it would make sense to ensure these places stay around. Because while replacing them with a new development might be a net win for the land owner, as a whole it might end up downgrading an entire neighbourhood. But that gets us to the ‘zoning’ side of city planning which is a huge mess in Bangkok… mostly because it doesn’t seem to exist.

    • I think people know it’s a big tourist draw, but they are still trying to find a way to accommodate street food and make more money at the same time. I suspect we’ll go the Singapore way of street food soon.

  3. Streetfood is one of Bangkok’s main tourist attractions, so I hope the city moguls will take not of that and not go towards complete gentrification. And I hope the streetfood on Soi 38 survives!!!

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