Chinatown, Bangkok, Thailand

 

It has been one year since Bangkok’s street food “ban“ went into effect and the government started a mission to clear Bangkok’s major sidewalks of street vendors.

Food-loving Bangkokians, with their go-to hookups for grilled pork skewers, wok-fried noodles and late-night bowls of rice porridge met the news with dismay. Many of us criticised the move as a tragedy, a whitewashing of the local culture, and shameful treatment of the city’s working class who depend on cheap food to survive. Ironically, the ban arrived only a few days after CNN crowned the city as “the world’s street food capital”.

Its been one full year since the clean up went into effect, and its real effects are now beginning to surface. On one hand, initial articles announcing a comprehensive clean-up are “misreported,” according to the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) who spearheaded the city’s current drive to clear the sidewalks.  They shared that the ban has only been a concern for vendors with temporary permits, and has affected a minimum number of vendors – merely those who serve food that has been deemed by City Hall to be unsanitary.

Yet experts on the ground working with vendor groups tell a different story- claiming that the ban has affected vendors all over the city, from a variety of backgrounds. Of the 20,000 street-food vendors working throughout Bangkok, an approximate 6,334 have been affected by the cleanup.

Bangkok street food first flourished during the ‘80s and ‘90s, before the city became crowded and Pedestrians had no objections. Today, however, the vendors are seen to be taking up too much space in Bangkok’s highly populated city centers.

Real estate developers are also seen to be behind the anti-street food movement, claiming that the presence of vendors affects their property values.

However- to treat the vendors as a nuisance obscures the genuine good- and money- they bring to their communities. It has been noticed that the removal of street vendors from some areas has actually reduced foot traffic, and adversely affected the sales of surrounding businesses.

People rely on vendors everywhere they go, and despite there being 18 street-food stalls in the city with Michelin “Bib Gourmand” awards, the street vendor community is genuinely under attack from the government.