Part 1: Street Food Crisis in Bangkok, City of Angels, L-O-S…

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Best northern food in Chiang Mai, but not on the sidewalk…

Land of Smiles, that is, until you f*ck with the food, just one spoonful short of the prized phrik (hot pepper) or sacred sugar, and you’re in real trouble, Thai food something of a gustatory dialectic wending its way between the extremes of spicy and jeut, sour and sweet, hot and cold flavors, filling or not. And now the military government wants to clean up the sidewalks of street vendors, including food vendors…

Well, you’d think North Korea had begun launching missiles down south, the way the Twitter-verse and Facebookers are responding to Bangkok’s crackdown on ‘street food’ this week. Now everybody is Anthony Freaking Bourdain, with epicurean DNA, a favorite street chef in Bangkok, a culinary stiffie and a golden thumb for golden drum-sticks, browned and crisped to smoky perfection and ready for prime time…

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Thai curries, hard to find on the sidewalk…

And that’s what a large percentage of Bangkok ‘street food’ consists of, too, roasted chicken, pork, sausage and other animal cuts meaty, beaty, big and bouncy for grilling on makeshift sidewalk smokescreens, later to be eaten with sticky rice and that special sauce, for meals or priestly offerings, or anything in between…

Other popular street foods include basic fast-food noodle and rice dishes, such as noodle soups and stir-fried noodle Pad Thai and fried rice. But possibly the most popular street food is what some Thais, especially northeastern Isaan residents, would consider the quintessential Thai dish: som tam*, that uber-spicy raw papaya-based salad that will either make you a believer or kill you in the process, no middle ground, it, too, usually eaten with sticky rice, guaranteed to absorb the spice and convert it into contentment…

And that’s about it, with similar menus all over the country, thus only a small percentage of the total Thai food offering, analogous to the role that fast-food plays in Western countries, hamburgers hot dogs and anything else that fits easily into a bag. But these aren’t just rolling pushcarts for quick fixes on hungry bellies. No, these operations typically take up large swathes of sidewalk space and include table and chairs, all on space designed for walking…

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Thai southern sweets, hard to find on the sidewalk…

Walking, of course is an activity typically held in low esteem in most, if not all, of Asia, where only those of low breed and resources would be caught dead in such straits—and many times are, with Thailand leading the world in road accidents per cap, 20-25% of which kill pedestrians, many of which are forced into busy streets for lack of walkable sidewalks. Other uses of sidewalks typically include motorbike parking, trinket selling, and temporary work-space for any repair shop renting the space that the walk fronts…

In congested areas, sidewalk vendors can even choke off business from any retail space daring enough to rent there, which is okay if they’re getting some goodwill bucks from the vendor, but most likely that’ll go to some mafia-like protection specialist who’ll come by to collect his little stipend once a month, just like cops do with brothels and after-hours drinkeries. A quickie rush-hour vendor, a true itinerant, may get off Scot-free, but most sidewalk usurpers are gonna’ pay somebody sometime, sooner or later…

People have died for refusal to pay up, for ‘protection’, even though these mafia-like organizations have no legitimate claims to the sidewalk space, just a power vacuum that local governments are incapable of filling, and if they did, then the cops would want their cut. So it’s a never-ending struggle to jockey for position, something that the legitimate businesses behind the sidewalk are incapable of doing. And if those businesses eventually fold, the itinerant vendors just move to another popular frontage…

To be continued…

Mainstream media take on street food crisis: http://edition.cnn.com/2017/04/20/foodanddrink/bangkok-street-food-ban/index.html?iid=ob_lockedrail_bottomlist

*This is what som tam can do to you: https://www.thaivisa.com/forum/topic/979338-husband-dies-after-last-meal-of-som-tam-brought-to-him-by-his-wife/?utm_source=newsletter-20170420-1317&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=news

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