Drunken noodles – a signature by street food queen Jay Fai
In April last year, the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) announced a campaign to take back the streets of the Thai capital. For too long, they claimed, food vendors had been allowed to seize public space and occupy the pavements from pedestrians. The statement was later clarified, denying that it was a blanket ban on street food, instead, warning of regulations on when and where vendors can set up shops.
“We’re tasting as diverse offers as pig's brain soup and mango sticky rice”
– They want people to use the legal spaces offered by the government to sell food, explains San Francisco expat Billy Bautista.
I've met up with Billy and his wife Kasama Laopanich – two successful Bangkok restaurateurs who are taking me on a food trip around Bangkok's Chinatown. We're tasting as diverse offers as pig's brain soup and mango sticky rice from some of the city's best street food vendors. None of the places we visit will be affected by the ban, Billy claims:
– Even though most people would still call this street food, these are actually brick and mortar shops who pay rent and taxes.
According to Bautista, these shophouse eateries are the real gems of Bangkok. After a week of eating my way through the city, I can only agree. While the more unskilled laborers with wheeled food carts do provide affordable food for locals everywhere, it's the sit-down restaurant who employ the best chefs.
The prime example of this, perhaps, is Jay Fai, or Sister Mole, as the old lady's nickname translates. Always sporting her iconic ski goggles and deep-red lipstick when she cooks up her renowned deep-fried crab omelette. Made to perfection every time. These days, people line up all day long for a taste (or just a photo), after she was awarded the city's only Michelin star in the street food category.
Since its Bangkok launch in December 2017, the French food Bible has sparked quite some controversy. The new strategy of cooperating with local tourism authorities has been heavily criticized, with the most avid adversaries claiming that the guide cannot possibly offer independent reviews anymore. Awards to hawker stalls like Jay Fai and similar places in Singapore have been dubbed marketing stunts.
I beg to differ. From my perspective, the Michelin Guide is simply adapting to a new media reality, where people no longer buy books, and everything is available for free online. They run a business after all. I'm just glad to see that not only white tablecloths and caviar gets the inspectors' attention in 2018. Bangkok's street food deserves a star!