All fired up over street food

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - GARY WALSH

Out­side, there is or­gan­ised chaos. Traf­fic rum­bles by as pedes­tri­ans weave a care­ful path around fiery woks set up on the foot­path — their ears as­saulted by hiss­ing oil, clash­ing metal and shouted or­ders — and ne­go­ti­ate lines of peo­ple queu­ing to get in or to buy take­away.

In­side, din­ers tuck into Pad Thai Thip Sa­mai’s epony­mous spicy prawns and noo­dles, the pad thai uniquely co­cooned in a gos­samer-thin shell of beaten egg, and sip on fresh orange juice shipped in ev­ery day from the restau­rant’s or­chards in the coun­try­side.

Its sig­na­ture dish is one of Bangkok’s great street food ex­pe­ri­ences. But for how much longer is an ex­pe­ri­ence such as this go­ing to be pos­si­ble?

In April it was re­ported that Bangkok au­thor­i­ties had de­cided to ban foot­path traders and re­turn the streets to pedes­tri­ans. The Bangkok gover­nor’s chief ad­viser was quoted as say­ing, “Ev­ery street ven­dor will have to move out.” The re­port caused world­wide con­ster­na­tion and a pan­icked Tourism Au­thor­ity of Thai­land acted to re­as­sure peo­ple there was no in­ten­tion to ban street food, as did the cap­i­tal’s au­thor­i­ties, which ex­plained the aim was to en­sure hy­gienic food prac­tices and to bet­ter or­gan­ise traf­fic around street-food hotspots such as Yaowarat Road and Khao San Road.

There are an es­ti­mated 380,000 ven­dors in Bangkok, but there has al­ready been a re­duc­tion in their num­ber in re­cent years. Sukhumvit Soi 38 was one of the city’s most pop­u­lar street food des­ti­na­tions, with stalls lin­ing both sides of the nar­row road, but when land was gob­bled up for con­do­minium de­vel­op­ment the ven­dors were pushed out. About a dozen now op­er­ate un­der the eaves of an apart­ment block, Sut­thi Man­sion, on the corner of Sukhumvit Road and Soi 38. Among them is Blaz­ing Pad Thai, the owner of which crouches over ex­plod­ing woks turn­ing out some of Bangkok’s best noo­dles, and Ning’s mango sticky rice stall, where sweet heaven costs 100 baht ($4) for a plate big enough for two.

Chi­na­town’s Yaowarat Road re­mains Bangkok’s street-food epi­cen­tre, with hun­dreds of night-time stalls sup­ple­ment­ing scores of per­ma­nent restau­rants, in­clud­ing the leg­endary du­elling seafood places on Soi Phadung Dao. It’s red shirts (Lek & Rut Seafood) ver­sus green shirts (T & K Seafood), and may the best steamed sea bass win.

Yaowarat Road and its sois are in­sanely busy. On Soi Khao Tum a cook at a 24-hour restau­rant shouts a warn­ing be­fore a wok on the foot­path ex­plodes into flame as oil hits sear­ing metal. Mr Tall’s Curry Shoppe dom­i­nates the en­trance to Yaowarat Soi 11 with pots of beef, pork, chicken and fish curry; fur­ther in, a woman who cy­cles in

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