This time, it’s a ban that’s bad for our taste buds.
Bans: so hot these days. First came the travel ban, which sought (unsuccessfully, at least so far) to stop travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries overseas. Next came the laptop ban, which (successfully, at least so far) prohibits laptops and certain other electronic devices in the cabins of planes traveling to the United States from other countries.
The latest ban, however, may be the most short-sighted of the bunch—the Bangkok government has announced a ban on street food from the city’s major roads.
The move, which hit airwaves earlier this week, aims to eradicate all street vendors from these roads by the end of the year. The reasons: to step up “order and hygiene” as part of an effort to “return the pavements to pedestrians.”
In any other city, these would be perfectly valid reasons to make a change. In Bangkok, however, street food is life. There are more than 20,000 street food vendors in all, and locals and visitors alike line up throughout the day and night for tastes of spicy prawn soup, sweet pork kebabs, papaya salad, curry, and noodle soups (to name a few). Travel outfitters offer hundreds of street food tours throughout the year. Even the Tourism Authority of Thailand leverages the city’s street food to promote the country—at least according to a recent article in Time.
The change in policy represents a new direction from the junta that took over Thai government in 2014. The new leaders have vowed to crack down on a bunch of vices, including corruption and the sex trade. Still, lashing out at such a popular—and important—part of the tourism infrastructure seems curious at best.
And the crackdown is already underway. According to Bangkok officials, the central district of Siam was cleared by police earlier this week. An article in the Guardian noted that Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road and Khao San Road, which was made famous in the novel The Beach, are next on the list.
Elsewhere around the city, street vendors who were told they had to close up by June 1 were given new notices to shut down Monday.
Thankfully for taste buds, the new rules only govern public space, which means crafty hawkers are figuring out ways to rent private space and keep cooking. Others are converting their sedentary stalls into mobile kitchens that can be moved around the city by bike. The takeaway: It takes more than a short-sighted ban to keep good street cooks down for long.
Editor’s Note: On April 21, 2017, the Tourism Authority of Thailand issued a statement clarifying the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s (BMA) stance on food stalls on the city’s main streets. The BMA states that there is no outright ban on the sale of street food, but measures will be enforced to raise food safety standards and ensure the safety and convenience of road users and pedestrians.