Last month I spent a good five days in Thailand’s capital Bangkok. I loved it. Everyone who has ever visited the city will remember it for a few things — extreme traffic congestion, little family dwellings overshadowed by state-of-the-art shopping malls, organized chaos, friendly people. And, last but not least, great food that’s available on every corner of the street.
Bangkok is a natural pop-up city. The tropical climate, the socio-economic structure and the apparent lack of regulation allow for an extremely vibrant outdoor city life. Almost every square meter of public space is part of the city’s immense 24/7 pop-up market place, in which food forms the very central element. Strolling the streets of Bangkok makes you want to eat, because there’s cheap, delicious and fresh food available all around the place. It feels like an all year long Restaurant Day, but without the hipsters.
Thai street food culture comes in different shapes and sizes. The typical small food stall is the most ubiquitous element on the streets of Bangkok and also in other parts of the country. You see them often without any extensions, but sometimes they’re part of bigger street restaurants and take-aways that are run by entire Thai families. Most of these eateries are situated on busy pavements and in narrow alleys, and are equipped with provisional kitchens, plastic tables and chairs, and even decoration on the walls. The little stalls usually offer only one or two dishes that won’t fill you up entirely, so it’s a good idea to try many things and ‘eat your way’ through public space. The city’s street menu is insanely diverse, and the food is surprisingly good.
Bangkok’s unorganized pop-up culture combines an entrepreneurial spirit with a highly attractive service economy on the street. The city proves that ‘pop-up’ shouldn’t necessarily have to be some hip thing. It can really be a fundamental layer of the urban structure, that’s not just driven by big brands and artists, but by normal people.
Interested in reading more about Bangkok’s pop-up food culture? Be sure to check out Bangkok Glutton, a great food blog founded by Thai-American Bangkok resident Chawadee Nualkhair. She has also written a book about the topic called Bangkok’s Top 50 Street Food Stalls. Another great read is the book Bangkok Street Food by Tom Vandenberghe and Els Goethals.