Remember the kerfuffle last week about Bangkok street food vendors possibly being run off their stalls? Seems like that was either an exaggeration of the plans or the government is now singing a slightly different tune. Either way, street meat seems set to remain a part of the Bangkok experience, though with a few changes.
It seems the government wants to address two main concerns with the vendors: health and space. On the health front, there appears to be a push towards ensuring the vendors are properly cleaning their prep tools and also that the service utensils are sanitized. Hard to argue that, of course, though it will bring about a layer of bureaucracy (inspectors, etc.). Also assume licensing requirements of some sort to help track who is being inspected which means costs to the vendors. And depending on just how the licensing and inspection schemes are implemented there’s also a great opportunity for corruption and graft.
For space (and tied to safety) there’s concern about the more popular areas having so many vendors that the sidewalks are overcrowded. Pedestrians spill out into the streets, creating a safety hazard plus contributing to traffic issues. It seems the answer on this front is limiting some areas where the vendors can operate but not banning them wholesale from the city’s streets. Some main roads will be no-go zones for the operations but those vendors will theoretically move on to nearby soi (side streets). In some ways this is just moving the problem elsewhere. Side streets are typically more narrow and have similar challenges with crowded sidewalks and traffic. In other ways it could be good for the neighborhoods as it helps bring more people off the main drag and into the community to better experience the local scene. Or it just pushes the noise and smell and rubbish back of the main roads and makes life more hectic and frustrating for the locals in the area.
I’m going to support any plan that keeps street food a part of the scene anywhere in the world. It is probably my favorite avenue by which to explore a city and a culture. And I get the hygiene and noise and smell and safety concerns. But there are ways to address those without shutting down the industry wholesale. And it is nice to see that the government seems to have figured out how to keep the Bangkok street food scene alive.
And, yes, some of the dedicated (or semi-dedicated hawker stall areas can deliver a similar experience. The Jam Factory was a lot of fun, for example, but it is decidedly not the same as the traditional street food stalls.
Also, details on all of this remain somewhat vague so this version of the story could be just another (and different) misunderstanding of the government’s intentions.
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