This epiphanic moment follows a grumbling stomach and a yearning for fluffy pork and chilli stuffed crepes. It also starts on a seemingly boring day, sat at my condo, peering over local life and the surrounding street food stalls. A day not so different to any other. The sweet crepe lady arrives to the corner where she parks her cart, as always, and looks ready to set up for serving. I am soon out the door, down the elevator and onto the street, licking my lips… only to find the crepe lady had already started moving up the road. “What the hell”. I watch as her cart continues further into the distance and I find myself torn. I either chase her down to harass her for a crepe, or maybe I just follow along until she comes to her next stop. Wherever that is. I also felt betrayed that she had somewhere better to be. Anyway, politeness gets the better of me and I potter along behind her, keeping a safe distance, so I don’t look like a stalker. We are still on the same stretch of road, the road where I live, but we end up in parts lesser travelled and to me unknown. I’ve never really walked it before because there’s little more than schools and a dead-end. And no I don’t spend my time lurking outside primary schools… or at least until now.
Nearing the end of the road, she pulls her cart to the curbside, and I arrive to find snack-vana. Multi-coloured arrays of all sorts of street food everything. Naturally I find myself with mixed emotions, excited to find this new world of street food, yet at the same time cheated and betrayed by it all. As I walk the line of vendors I recognise all the faces, of all my favourite foods, and not one of them can look me in the eye. “What the hell roti guy”. For three years I’ve lived on this street, everyday yearning for his banana and egg filled flat breads, yet he’s been hiding up here the whole time, spoiling these Primary School brats everyday. “You could have at least told me”. It seems like every street food cart I’ve known through the year were here, abandoning me and the small trickle of loyal 7-11 patronage which comes at my corner. Of course I find it hard to stay mad and join in like a kid on Christmas, kicking through lines of yappy children and making the most of one, of very few perks in being a grown up.
When your daily routine is as simple as mine, moments like these can hit like bomb. This was probably the most significant event since the new Khao Man Kai (chicken on rice) stall arrived back in early 2013, then left again a month later. That was cruel. So life as we know it, will never be the same. The pre-finding-new-street-food days were over and the repercussions were troubling. Yet exciting at the same time. Our old routine was almost guaranteed to be over. The good ol’ days when our first meal would start around 1oam. Tom Yum Kai (hot and sour chicken soup) and Kaprao Moo Grob (crispy pork belly with holy basil) would be the usual order here. Our second meal would then come close to 5pm, with Som Tam (papaya salad) and Namtok Moo (grilled pork neck salad). Sticky rice as well. But now we have to fit in 3pm snacking? “Maybe we can eat light in the morning?” – “but I’d miss my chewy pork belly…”. “Can we add a third meal to the day?”… “but you’re already huge”.
As I stand, surrounded by sniffling kids, with chocolate lava flowing from my salapao (steamed bun) down my arm, I realise just how few of these street food snacks are actually Thai? What surrounds me is a completely new generation of street food, inspired by a completely new generation of eaters. Their appetites more than likely influenced by kick-ass TV shows such as Naruto, or Ben 10, or whatever kids watch these days. But kids these days are obviously more international than the generations before, and this is reflected in their choice of international street food. I find Gyoza (Japanese dumplings), Takoyaki (Japanese Squid Balls), Tornado Fries (Potatoes aren’t Thai), Bubble Teas (Taiwanese), even the chocolate lava pao messing up my hand wasn’t really Thai (originally Chinese). I feel old and out-of-date as I stand by the Isaan sausage guy who is slumped behind his forgotten about cart. “What’s happening to this world?”
Back on my condo balcony I fill my face with a lost-in-translation Katsu Don (a failed adaptation of Japanese pork cutlet on rice). Then comes my Darwinian moment as I realise that I have just witnessed, first hand, the evolution of street food. Will one day Gyoza be taken as Thai street food? I’ve already seen them cropping up at cheap food courts so they’re well on their way. But questioning the future I have to look to the past. While many street foods are taken for granted as being Thai, how many are in fact authentically Thai? Crepes, French? Roti, Indian? Shrimp Shumi, Chinese. Maybe there was a day when roti vendors were seen as wtf. But, as the city develops, and becomes more multicultural, so will the street food. And while I can’t help feel sorry for what may become of the Isaan sausage, I am still all for the new generations of street food. The more food the better. Although occasionally I may find cravings for the delightful tart of Gyoza sauce, but I know my heart will always lie with the delicious plumpness of Isaan sausage.