One of Bangkok's leading chefs has thrown his weight behind stricter street-food regulations, citing declining standards of quality.
On Apr 18, news surfaced about the BMA’s plans to officially clear Bangkok entirely of its street food stalls, while keeping heavily-regulated Yaowarat and Khaosan roads as the only two exceptions thanks to their tourist appeal.
The news was met with scathing worldwide headlines, but not everyone condemned the potential move. Some regulation is definitely warranted, according to chef Dylan Jones, whose Bo.lan restaurant with wife Duangporn Songvisava has constantly raised the bar for genuine royal Thai cuisine, researching recipes, tracking down former palace chefs, continuing their path towards a zero-carbon footprint, and pushing diners to increasing extremes.
"It’s not a bad idea. Obviously it’s going to affect the livelihoods of street food vendors which isn’t good, but I think regulating, educating and bringing up standards of the street food here is a good thing," Jones told us in a recent interview.
He points to a marked drop in the quality of street food in Thailand as reason enough for action. "The actual price that they [vendors] are selling for has not gone up, but the prices of the ingredients have—this means vendors are having to cut corners to make their food, resulting in the quality rapidly declining."
Jones does acknowledge that enhanced regulations could push up prices. "At the end of the day, people have to realize that if you want something good, you’ll have to pay more money. Besides, you can go into shop-houses that sell similar things as street food," he says.
Government-backed hawker centers and more clearly designated zones for street food are two options being touted as alternative solutions to clearing out street food altogether. But while Jones is in favor of bringing up standards, he takes aim at any standardization of the food itself.
"We need to go back to a period when the vendors were making food from scratch. Now, they’re all sourcing it from the same place—for example, tub tim grob is made in a market in the Old Town that sells tub tim grob to hundreds and hundreds of vendors who then just resell it across the city. It means everything tastes the same and takes away from the charm that Thailand’s street food used to have," he says.
While to clear Bangkok of its street food is to change the very essence of our lifestyle, it's apparent to most that some regulation is welcome. Had the BMA placed the focus of its scheme on stricter regulations regarding food hygiene and space allocation, it would surely have had more widespread public support. In any case, we can't see this debate dying down any time soon.