What Bangkok's Ban on Street Food Really Means

Photo of Kelly Iverson
24 April 2017

Street food is to Bangkok as the Colosseum is to Rome: the city just would not be the same without it. The capital of Thailand was even named by CNN as the number one city in the world for street food. So, when rumors started to circulate that the most popular areas for street eats were being shut down, both diners and vendors started to panic. So what does the future hold for Bangkok’s street food?

Courtesy of Kelly Iverson

A few years ago, one would not need to venture far in Bangkok to find delicious street food. Vendors were generally free to cook and sell their food wherever they pleased. This all changed after the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration began to clear the streets. Some vendors were evicted to make way for new tourist attractions, while others were cleared in the hopes of cleaning up and decongesting some walkways.

Courtesy of Kelly Iverson

There have certainly been more than a few conflicting reports and stories as to what the future holds for these vendors. With headlines reading, “Thailand is Banning Bangkok’s World Famous Street Food,” and “Bangkok is Clearing out All of its Street-Food Vendors,” it seemed pretty clear that the sidewalks, roads, and markets that normally thrive with delicious street food were soon to be nothing but a fond memory. Luckily, this is not necessarily the case.

Courtesy of Kelly Iverson

Kobkarn Wattanavrangkul, the Minister of Tourism and Sports, clarified some of these reports. “Street food will always be in Thailand, will always be in Bangkok, and will always be with everyone living here,” Wattanavrangkul said. “It’s a part of us; it’s a part of our life.”

She also said that the only big change in regards to vendors was not their location but their hygiene. Many vendors are happy to support such changes. Some things Wattanavrankul mentioned were simple requests such as cooks being required to clean their hands before preparing food, and not pouring their waste in the gutter, to avoid attracting rats and cockroaches. She even posted many of the new guidelines to her Facebook on April 19. Her post ended by saying: “In short, street food vendors would not banned as circulated among some medias. On the contrary, they would be supported and facilitated adhering to the features of tourist attractions as well as universal hygienic standards.”

Courtesy of Kelly Iverson

So what’s so special about Bangkok’s street food? Many tourists see the street food here as a novelty, or another tourist attraction to tick off:

Eat a scorpion on Khao San Road. Check.

Devour an entire fish at a local market. Check.

Try a bowl of the intimidating-looking chicken feet soup. Check.

And while the street food is one of the main reasons why Bangkok continues to be a top destination for foodie travelers, street vendors are so much more than a photo opportunity or bucket list stop. In some instances, vendors provide meals to those who cannot afford to eat elsewhere. This is an important point for those throwing up their hands in despair at the potential street food ban to remember: not only is the food delicious, it is also an essential part of the city.

For now, Wattanavrangkul tells us to continue to enjoy the street food in Thailand … that we can do!

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