Siripon, Maker of Kanom Krok
by Michael Babcock
For more on street food in the Thong Lo area, read One Soi's Street Food Scene.
One of the distinct pleasures of being in Thailand is the street food scene. It's great to stroll the streets of Thailand and graze on the delectable, delicious, inexpensive food at every corner. Street food vendors are often very friendly people, despite working long hours in the midst of traffic and pollution (in Bangkok, in any case) for not very much money. This year Kasma got to know the story of one of the vendors in the Tawng Law area (the official spelling is Thong Lo ) – the area immediately around the intersection of Sukhumvit Road and Soi 55. This is the area where we stay when we are in Bangkok and it has a lively street food scene indeed. Kasma once went to a conference in the U.S. where one of the speakers boldly proclaimed that "Street food is NO MORE!" Thankfully that woman could not have been more wrong."
Click on each picture to see a larger image.
Kanom Krok in Thong Lo, Thailand
Kanom Krok is possibly the favorite street food of Thailand. Delectable, delicious coconut hotcakes, they are mainly a street food, found by searching for vendors with little circles of coconut mixture cooking in distinct circular cast-iron pans, each pan with 22 indentations. The usual price is 10 to 15 baht, about 30 to 35 cents, for 7 to 10 full kanom krok (they combine two of finished half-spheres to form a complete sphere). (Kanom Krok recipe.)
When we are staying at our hotel at Sukhumvit Soi 55 (Thong Lo) and are lucky enough to be there on a weekend, first thing in the morning we walk up Sukhumvit to the corner of Soi 57 where a pleasant looking woman named Siripon has set up at a cart with 4 kanom krok pans. She used to be there every day but now (2008) she is there only on the weekends, with her husband there to help her. During weekdays, they make fried bread over on Sukhumvit Soi 33.
Over the years she has come to recognize us and always greets us with a pleasant smile. Like many of the street vendors (or indeed, many of the people at the poorest paying jobs) she is from Northeastern Thailand, the region called Isaan. Her story is fairly common. She left Isaan to come to Bangkok because she has a family to support. Her two children remain in Isaan with their grandparents and she sees them when she travels home twice a year. Her initial investment of 10,000 baht (about $260) doesn't seem like very much to us, but when you only receive 10 baht from each customer, it takes some time to recoup that investment. She pays "the district" 300 baht per month for her spot on the street.
It is a hard life – seven days a week out in the midst of the fumes and noise of Bangkok traffic, selling kanom krok at 10 baht a basket in order to support your family and to see your children only twice a year; Thai people love their children – seeing them so seldom is a hardship. Perhaps this accounts for the look of sadness sometimes on her face before it lights up with her smile. Like other Thai people in similar circumstances there is a matter-of-factness about her: she does what needs to be done. As Kasma has gotten to know her, Siripon generously invited us to come to her home in Isaan, something we've never been able to do. I find her warmth and friendliness quite humbling – in Thailand there sometimes appears to be an inverse relationship between openness/friendliness and income.
It is hard to imagine the impact were street food to disappear. Across the countries there must be millions of vendors who rely on selling their food on the street in order to survive. There are millions more who depend upon street food for inexpensive, good food. The street food carts around government buildings are mobbed with office workers at lunch time – they don't make that much money and rely on street food for their lunch. It also adds a colorful and interesting flavor to the streets that is distinctly Thai and which helps bring me back to this wonderful country year after year after year.
Interestingly, before the mid-part of this century, there were few street vendors. After Khun Pibul came to power in 1938, he encouraged the proliferation of food stalls in the street as a way for the poor people to make a living.