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Banned or not? What’s going on with the street food in Thailand?

The latest on the BMA versus TAT power struggle over our soup bowls.

By Bonnie Sananvatananont | Apr 21, 2017

  • Banned or not? What’s going on with the street food in Thailand?

There has been fevered conjecture over the past couple of days regarding the situation of Thailand’s street food. The panic started on Tuesday Apr 18 when daily newspaper The Nation released a front page article titled “BMA bans all street food across Bangkok this year” with a standfirst reading “Despite international acclaim, Yaowarat and Khao San Road next targets of clean-up." It quoted Wanlop Suwandee, chief adviser to the Bangkok governor:

“The BMA is now working to get rid of the street vendors from all 50 districts of Bangkok and return the pavements to the pedestrians. Yaowarat and Khao San Road will be our next goal in clearing out illegal vendors,” Wanlop said. "No exceptions"

The news quickly drew an uproar on the internet from both locals and foreigners who expressed their disappointment and pointed out the contradiction in forcing a blanket ban shortly after Thailand was dubbed the best street food city in the world by CNN just four days earlier. The news was quickly picked up and shared by foreign media, including The Guardian, The Telegraph and Conde Nest Traveller, in turn starting a global conversation that was largely negative.

However, in an interview with Voice TV on Wednesday morning, chief adviser Wanlop refuted The Nation’s claims. He insisted Khaosan and Yaowarat will not be cleared of street food. He clarified that the BMA will be implementing stricter rules to manage the standards of food on these roads, referring to them as central spots for tourism that need to be standardized. This includes a control on service times, prevention of dishwashing on the pavements, higher standards of food hygiene, government training for staff and many others rules. 

Wanlop explains that this is due to street vendors obstructing footpaths and causing road congestion, which the BMA has received a large number of complaints about. He states that, while Khaosan and Yaowarat are prime tourist hubs, other street food and vendor-heavy areas like Siam Square, Victory Monument and parts of Sukhumvit cannot be given the same excuse and thus are likely to be cleared, though no further details were given as to when. 

On the same day, Thailand’s Minister of Tourism and Sports Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul wrote a statement on Facebook that the news of a blanket ban on Thai street food is false, despite The Nation’s initial reporting. However, she clarified that street food vendors throughout the city, in particular Khaosan and Yaowarat roads, will be regulated by the government. In a press conference for the launch of the Michelin Guide in Thailand this morning (Apr 21) the Minister once again reiterated this clarification.

Thus, Kobkarn’s statement comes as a contradiction to what Wanlop stated on Voice TV regarding certain areas which are still under threat.

At this time, there’s one thing that’s guaranteed: the street food on Yaowarat and Khaosan roads are not going anywhere—though they will be heavily regulated by the BMA in the immediate future—thanks to them being prime tourist destinations that Bangkok can’t afford to lose. As for the rest of Bangkok, the situation still remains unclear with the BMA and TAT contradicting each other. However, it's safe to say we can surely expect more enforcement targeting them too—if not total removal.

While it seems tourism is the only thing saving street food at the moment, perhaps the BMA ought to consider the livelihoods of the food sellers, as well as local people who depend on 30-50 baht meals. If not for their sake, perhaps for the sake of street food in general being a uniqueness that makes Bangkok so appealing to both locals and foreigners. In a city with such horrible walkability, some regulation is welcome, but the BMA must tread carefully to preserve this invaluable asset.

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