The tastiest food is in the small streets: the politics of flavor and nostalgia in Bangkok
Food in Thailand moves with the tempo of time. Bangkok’s mae kha (“trading mothers”) once sold food from small boats, providing consumers with wonderful Thai dishes that reflected a long history of international trade. When the rivers were covered with roads and small streets in the mid-twentieth century, the speed of food’s movement ricocheted, as did the success of agribusiness and more recently, supermarkets. Using ethnography among street food consumers and sellers this chapter frames street food as a space in which Bangkok consumers participate in the multiple and contradictory experiences of time and space that order their lives, and in which they construct a social identity. Drawing on Taylor’s (2008) and Sopranzetti’s (2013) discussion of rural Thailand in the imagination of urban Bangkok, it is argued that consuming street food has a quality of intimacy that sustains a nostalgia, which is applied in the construction of respectable social identities and makes social understandings of the property rights meaningful. In agreement with Kim (2012), it is argued that street food governance must turn away from monumental urban spaces to understand the everyday use of official and unofficial spaces. Progress must be made towards removing class and policy biases in order to reorient the gaze to street food vending, the backstreets rather than the high streets, the collapsible food stalls rather than the high-rises.