Thai people love their food. That’s a fact. It’s one of the few certainties in this “Land of Smiles.” And it’s this love of food which has given rise to the propensity of food vendors found on the streets of Thailand. Eating out is often as cheap, and as convenient, as eating at home, which is why so many Thais opt for this way of eating. Nearly all streets in Thailand are lined with vendors, who brave the stifling heat to bring good, cheap food to the hungry at all hours of the day and night. From sticky rice and papaya salad, steak and fries, noodle soup, and fried chicken that puts KFC to shame, Thailand has it all.
In Western countries, the food industry is almost entirely dominated by big franchises and supermarkets. No matter where you go, you will undoubtedly have to eat in a big, modern-looking cafe or restaurant. Rare is the sight of the humble street vendor, working to feed the locals. It would be almost an impossibility in today’s world to see such small-scale food vendors: their business could never compete with the money-hungry, market-savvy franchises. And so, it seems a sad fact that, with capitalism, comes the denigration of the individual, who once strove to make a living through his or her produce.
Of course, Thailand has its fair share of franchises: from McDonalds, with a wai-ing Ronald, to Tesco Lotus, known simply as “Lotus,” by the locals. But the difference here is that the large franchises and small street vendors still exist side-by-side in relative harmony. People still choose the street vendors for convenience and affordability. With big supermarkets and fast-food joints usually located far away from residential areas, they remain the choice of the weekend getaway, or the meal of the increasingly rich (and increasingly fat) middle-class. But the staple diet comes from food made by cool-headed chefs, who seem capable of remembering multiple orders, without writing a word down, and without even looking at the person who ordered.
The typical street in Thailand is alive with the hustle and bustle of people heading out to buy food, motorcycle taxis weaving in and out of cars, and the erroneous stray dogs, that usually sleep on the threshold of 7-Eleven; no one bothers to move them. The average Thai person dreams of travelling to the West, as though arriving there will instantly bring affluence and a better standard of living. What they often don’t realize is that, in chasing the plastic dreams of the Westerner, they leave behind a little bit of that soul and character exuded by the daily lives of the Thai people. More importantly, when they realise how difficult it is to buy good, cheap food in places like England and America, they may be looking, with starry eyes, towards that mythical eastern world they’ve heard so much about.