The move by Bangkok city authorities to wipe hawkers off the streets by the end of the year might be a blow to residents and tourists looking for cheap food and other bargains.
But those in the opposite camp applaud the clean-up crusade which aims to tackle some major headaches that concerned parties have griped about for years: Poor sanitation, traffic jams, sidewalk congestion, massive littering, clogged drains and sewage which have caused flooding and mosquito breeding.
Only the street hawkers in two very popular tourist areas – Yaowarat, which is the city’s Chinatown, and backpackers’ haven Khao San – will be allowed to operate but under an organised system.
If you want to enjoy the street attractions that have helped boost Bangkok as a dining and shopping destination of the world, you better be quick.
In fact, some of the popular street hawking spots in Sukhumvit Soi 38, Thonglor, Ekkamai, Ari and Phrakanong have already disappeared or are in the process of shutting down.
Some lucky ones continue their business within the compound of a nearby building such as those on Soi 38.
Anyway, if you’re heading to Bangkok any time soon, here are some of the best eats that you shouldn’t miss before the food carts vanish from the streets.
You can probably find the same things in sanitised malls but the ambience and feeling while enjoying them will be very different.
SALTED-CRUSTED GRILLED FISH
Grilled over a charcoal fire, the whole fish (Pla Pao), usually tilapia or snakehead, has lemongrass sticking out of the mouth. Remove the thick layer of salt which keeps the flesh moist inside, and enjoy it with spicy green chilli sauce. A few popular stalls were found outside Central World towards the Pratunam junction.
VERMICELLI WITH SEAFOOD
Known as Ob Woon Sen, this is one of the quintessential dishes of Bangkok. Glass bean noodles are baked in a metal pot with prawns or crab, flavoured with coriander roots and local booze. A popular street stall can be found in Khlongsan, with an outlet near Wong Wian Yai BTS station.
Another quintessential but more famous dish of Bangkok, this fried noodles with eggs and shrimps is found everywhere. One stall in Charoen Rat Road in Khlongsan ups the ante with the noodles served on banana leaf and extras like dry crispy shrimps – but you have to pay for it.
PIG INNARDS SOUP
Although available in Singapore, Ter Huang Kiam Chye or Tue Huan in Bangkok comes with cubes of pig’s blood and local salted vegetable. Perfect after a night of binge drinking. it can be found at many night places such as Yaowarat and Silom, off Soi 2.
GRILLED CHICKEN WITH STICKY RICE
A great breakfast treat, Gai Yang is marinated chicken grilled over a charcoal fire and enjoyed with glutinous rice in a plastic bag. More difficult to find than the ubiquitous fried chicken. Try to catch the itinerant woman hawker near the old market in Nang Lin Chee.
Thin crispy folded crepes tucked with sweet or savoury coconut shreds are not difficult to find. Many people can eat a couple of these small palm-sized snacks at a time after it’s prepared on a griddle. Look out for one popular stall in Wang Lang along a crowded street leading to the pier.
Another popular Bangkok snack, it’s small and round but tastes like a baked coconutty kueh. But the soft moist centre reminds you of a lava cake. Try to spot the hawker selling it opposite the popular Hai Som Tam eatery in Soi Convent.
DURIAN WITH STICKY RICE
Many places sell mango with glutinous rice, and you’ll always get pieces of the real fruit. But when you ask for a durian version (Khao Niaow Tu-Rean), you are likely to get miserable pieces of cooked durian in a coconut sauce. A stall in Yaowarat offers it with durian removed fresh from a shell section, and of course, you pay more here.
Called Kuay Teow Ruea, it’s yet another quintessential dish of Bangkok but shunned by foreign tourists because of the addition of pig’s blood during the cooking of the soup. You can ask for more blood and spice if you want. One version with the addition of braised pork is found under the Saphan Taksin BTS station in Bangrak. Regulars would gulp down several bowls in quick succession as each serving is small.
This story first appeared on 23rd April 2017.