Lots of foods sold on the street by vendors in Thailand
Open containers and poor hygiene standards concern Bangkok's government. image; flickr

When news broke of the upcoming ban on street food in Bangkok, I was devastated. Bangkok’s street food spurs fond memories. I remember my days backpacking through Thailand, laughing as I observed tourists wincing while trying fried crickets.

I had to hold my nose as I walked past vats of bamboo worms being stirred like roasted chestnuts, and eating my weight in pad thai. But eating street food in South East Asia is considered a gamble, and some travelers avoid street food altogether in fear of food poisoning.

Rather than protest against the ban on street food, we should regard it as a wake-up call to urge street food vendors to work together with the local government to improve hygiene standards.

Otherwise, Thailand could follow Singapore’s example by eliminating a slice of its cultural identity altogether.

Sin City is long overdue for a clean-up

It’s a common practice across South East Asia to wipe one’s utensils with tissue prior to eating, which wouldn’t help if the chopsticks were washed in dirty water or contaminated in some other manner.

This behavior can even be noticed in restaurants, revealing just how much confidence the public has in the cleanliness of their eateries, and rightfully so. One plate of poorly prepared food and you can end up having an expensive and painful hospital stay.

This will disrupt what was supposed to be a stress-free holiday. Street food is a major culprit for this, given there is no regulation on hygiene practices in the industry.

Songkran, or the Thai New Year, is a nationwide water gun fight that takes place in April. Celebrants can buy spruced-up water guns (replete with backpacks for extra volume) to spray water on strangers.

My experience, however, was dampened when I saw roadside food vendors displaying their food in open containers alongside water fights. I knew the food was going to get contaminated, but nobody seemed to care.

As tasty as the deep-fried meatballs seemed, there was no way I was going to consider giving them a try. But I’m sure there were plenty of hungry merrymakers around who didn’t mind taking the risk and having a bite.

As a country known for its welcoming and laid-back attitude, Thailand is seen as the place where anything goes as long as you can afford it. Clamping down on illegal street food vendors will send a message.  

The city where Hangover Part ll was filmed is starting to clean up its act. However, it won’t be as sterile Singapore where you need a prescription to buy chewing gum.  😯 

What to do before the ban on street foods

With the threat of a ban on Bangkok street food, I reflect on what I love about it so much. Here are my top five street foods that you absolutely must try on your next trip to Bangkok:

5Chicken Wings

A travel buddy introduced me to the magical chicken wings of Thailand.  What is it about them that’s so tasty? Is there a special Thai marinade? Is it the oil that they use to fry it?

Whatever it is, there’s nothing quite like enjoying a hot and crispy chicken wing at four in the morning, four in the afternoon, and anytime in between.

4Pad Thai

My ideal dinner in Bangkok? A glorious plate of pad thai, followed by a sinful helping of mango sticky rice. All enjoyed while standing haphazardly on the side of the road, polystyrene container in one hand and chopsticks in the other. And some Thai iced tea to wash it all down. A+

3Khanom Buang

I’m a sucker for any dish touted as the local version of pancakes or crêpes. From the savory banh xeo from my native country of Vietnam to peanut-filled min jiiang kueh from my current home in Singapore.  

Oh, and decadent Indonesian martabak pancakes are up there among my favorite foods ever. (Who’d have thought that cheese and chocolate would go together so well?) Khanom buang are like dessert tacos – perfect for my sweet tooth.

2Papaya Salad

Crunchy, sweet, sour, and juicy, all at the same time. It took me a while to give papaya salad a chance at first (unripe papaya doesn’t sound very appealing), but once I gave this a try I was hooked. This refreshing snack is slightly spicy, perfect for a hot tropical day!

1Insects? I guess…

Insects are actually really popular with the locals, so they must be tasty, right? I can’t say I’ve ever tried fried bugs, but maybe I should give it a try in case there really is a ban on street food. Who’s tried this and do you have any recommendations for a first-timer?

Don’t worry; it probably won’t happen anyway

After news of the ban on street food spread, Bangkok governor Wallop Suwannee revealed to CNN he’d been misquoted and the street food vendors in Khao San and Yaowarat roads would still be permitted to operate. This is great news except for the street food in Khao San road is terrible.

Khao San Road is Bangkok’s backpacker central, with countless bars lining the street and street food vendors selling your typical spread of scorpions, cockroaches, and crickets, ready to be eaten in front of a GoPro.

Sadly, I’ve been disappointed by the mango sticky rice. I didn’t even know that it was possible to have inferior mango sticky rice in Thailand until I went to Khao San road.

But really, who are we kidding, anyway? The odds are stacked against the Thai government in this matter: Bangkok street food is a staple among Thais and tourists alike because it’s convenient and cheap. 

Chances are the street vendors will simply pay the police a little bit of extra pocket money to allow them to continue to operate. The government will be facing an uphill battle if it does decide to enforce a ban on street food.

Instead, they should be exploring alternatives, such as introducing a task force and dedicating it to ensuring proper hygiene standards are observed by the beloved street food vendors.

What if the ban on street food does come into effect?

Even if all of Bangkok’s street food vendors are eradicated, I’d still go to Bangkok for food any day, if only to visit 7-Eleven. My favorite dish in Thailand is probably the ham and cheese toastie which sells in 7-Elevens across the country, and I’m not even exaggerating.

There’s a Facebook page dedicated to the delicious snack/breakfast/post-party food/hangover recovery fuel. I just hope the possibility of a street food ban won’t increase demand for my toasties.  

There’s nothing worse than the disappointment of walking into a 7-Eleven in Thailand and finding that they’re sold out of toasties for the day.

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