#Bangkok After the #Food Ban: Don’t think twice, it’s all right…

IMG_2427Okay, so I’m being a bit snarky and ragging on a couple of friends who took extreme exception to the ruling Thai military junta’s recent decision to crack down on sidewalk vending, including food vending, to which some of them responded by threatening to cancel their biennial bivouacs in the Land of Smiles. Well, that crackdown got written up as something like: “Ban on Thai Street Food!” which of course is total BS, as no food in Thailand is banned, to my knowledge, certainly nothing like the status of pork in Islamistan or the status of bovine burgers in India…

No, this is a crackdown on sidewalk vending…

Not to mention the fact that of all the pictures of this supposedly ‘banned’ street food, none—absolutely zero—of them was indeed street food, i.e. sidewalk food. Now I doubt that the average farang—Westerner—even knows what som tam is, much less ever eaten it, and that is probably THE most popular ‘street’ food in Thailand, whether Bangkok or the countryside. I mean, the first time I ordered that ‘papaya salad’ on a restaurant menu, I almost died when I saw what they brought me, and NO, cream is not an optional topping. Marinated emulsified fish is…

IMG_2447Sidetrack:

Aside from any question of what your favorite Thai food is, what would you consider the most representative, the one that MUST be eaten if you want to claim any authoritative knowledge of Thailand’s celebrated cuisine? Objectively I’d probably vote for tom yam (goong), the hot sour ‘boiled salad’ that is found most often with shrimp (goong), though not necessarily, not because it’s my favorite, but because it’s the one most often exported, and ubiquitous in overseas Thai restaurants, BUT…

For any child of the Isaan northeast, som tam is the clear favorite, and so with many homeboys elsewhere, too, especially in the closely related north. If you don’t know by now, it is based on raw shredded spicy unripe papaya—weird, if not totally wonderful. My own favorites are likely to be found in the curry department, mostly Muslim in origin and introduced from the south, red ones and green ones especially notable…

So I’ve only got two words for the military junta’s actions in regard to this lopsided crackdown:

IMG_2444THANK YOU! I can breathe again! I can walk again! I don’t have to worry about cracking my head open on the low-hung metal framework of portable food stands! And as of yet I don’t have to dodge motorcycle taxis driven by the balaclava boys who claim sidewalk space with an impunity even worse than that of the food vendors. Best of all, the quality of food available on the sidewalk has likely even improved, now that we can actually see the permanently-based curry stalls often hidden behind the predatory sidewalk usurpers, which offer mostly grilled meats, noodle stalls, and the previously mentioned som tam…

Of course, to many this is all part of the ‘Singaporization’ of Bangkok, and that may or may not be true, and good or bad according to your tastes, but many of the naysayers have a distinct interest in maintaining the whorehouse mentality of Bangkok’s recent sordid past, and any attempt to upgrade will be protested bitterly, since the move to Cambodia would certainly prove difficult to manage for many of these malingerers who love their comfort food, breakfast in bed…

IMG_2442So there’s good news, that there is no shortage of easily available food on the sidewalks of Bangkok. And this is a report form the heart of the crackdown area: Sois (alleys) Thong Lor and Ekkamai. The ‘ban’ was never particularly aimed at touristy areas, anyway, such as Khao Sarn Road or the red-light districts of Patpong or Nana. In fact my greatest fear is that nothing would be done at all, given the Thai reputation for inaction, especially in the face of mass protest, and the powerful pull of money. But I guess the food stands don’t have as much of that as the brothels…

But there does seem to be a change, even if it’s somehow hard to quantify, and I think that is the general removal of seated stalls on the sidewalks of the main street here, Sukhumvit, though still available on side alleys—sounds reasonable. So only mobile units are allowed on prime sidewalk and non-food vending there must be flush with the walls. I only hope that that doesn’t just open the flood-gates to motorbikes, parking or riding, which is the main problem in other places of Asia…

IMG_2441And for those of you hard-core enough to reject any governmental interference in your ‘street’ food, I’d suggest you head up-country or down to see it at its source, not just the big-city Bangkok version as purveyed by its back-country immigrants. Get out and see the country! Thailand is at its best in the villages! And no, I’m not talking about Koh Samui, Phuket, Chiang Mai, or even Pai…  

Other rumored crackdowns apply to nightclubs and especially restaurants doubling as such, without the proper licenses, nor the later closing times. This could set an interesting precedent—Thailand as a nation of laws, not just men, and equally applicable to all, not just the non-rich! Imagine! But that would entail the extradition of a certain fugitive Red Bull heir who accidentally ran over a policeman and dragged him along the pavement under his sports car, the same one who disappeared in Singapore after mysteriously abandoning his private jet. Let’s see what happens with that, first…

And finally:

I hope the nice lady food writer from CNN sells lots of books after her skewed reporting of the Bangkok street food massacree, and its viral aftermath. Fake news knows no bounds, I guess. So never trust a blogger: that’s my motto. That advice should serve you well in most instances. Signing off, yours truly…

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