A general view shows the main street of Bangkok’s Chinatown on the night of September 16, 2020. Photo: Mladen ANTONOV / AFP
When famous noodle shop owner Charnchai Tangsubmanee passed away from COVID-19 last month, his four adult children were left in shock and despair.
The 73-year-old man who chaired Bangkok’s iconic street food cart Guay Jub Ouan Pochana, which was included this year in the prestigious Bib Gourmand from the Michelin Guide list for the third time in a row, lost their battle with the virus about three weeks after testing positive.
“At first I was shocked because it all happened so fast. I never thought it would kill my father, ”Charnchai’s second daughter Jitrapat Tang tearfully told VICE World News. “But everyone has to be brave. Now that he’s gone, we all have to fight to make my father’s dream come true.
Bangkok has long been recognized as one of the best places in the world for street food. But it only recently started making international lists after chef and crab omelet specialist Jay Fai became the first street food stall to receive a Michelin star in 2017. It was subsequently featured on a Netflix show, while other local Thai favorites fulfilled the recommendations of the Bib Gourmand guide.
According to the guide website, the Bib Gourmand is “not quite a star”, but it is an “equally appreciated note that recognizes friendly establishments that serve good food at moderate prices”. In Bangkok, there are currently 60 Gourmet Bib restaurants and carts.
Located on the main Yaowarat Road in Bangkok’s historic Chinatown, Guay Jub Ouan Pochana, also known as Cinema Guay Jub, is little more than a stall in a small shop with seats spilling out onto the sidewalk. . They are known for their rice noodles rolled in a thick, aromatic broth. Over 50, he regularly saw long lines of customers before the pandemic. Michelin’s distinctive red signs are proudly displayed on a glass partition.
The stall, which has reopened since Charnchai’s death on July 10, is now run by Jitrapat and his three other siblings.
“My dad really liked this business. He had been selling noodles since he was 11, ”Jitrapat said.
Charnchai tested positive for COVID-19 just a week after receiving his first vaccine against AstraZeneca, the family said. Charnchai’s wife also tested positive for the virus around the same time, but recovered quickly. After the news of his death was announced, online condolences poured in, with one mourning the “food legend” in a Facebook post.
The seller is among a growing number of street vendors killed in Thailand’s third and worst COVID wave, which devastates restaurants and businesses. According to local media, at least five other prominent street cart vendors have died in the new wave, which topped 20,000 daily cases for the first time this week with nearly 200 deaths, many more than in previous waves. .
Since street vendors are not covered by a social security scheme, they are considered “informal workers”, a group which has been particularly affected by the pandemic due to the lack of income security as well as measures. social protection. The informal sector represents more than half of the kingdom’s jobs, or more than 20 million people.
Somyos, another street food spot and a top timekeeper on this year’s Michelin Bib Gourmand list, said it suffered an 80% loss during the third wave of the pandemic, largely due to the limited hours imposed by the government.
In order to curb the infection, the government reimposed an eating ban in Bangkok and limited opening hours until 9 p.m., then reduced it to 8 p.m. This gives stores that only operate late at night, like Somyos, a short window.
“We start selling around 6pm, which only gives us around two hours,” said Adun “Somyos” Srirarak, the owner of the store, which sells Thai food with Chinese influences.
“The only reason we’re always open is to take care of our staff. They have regular expenses to pay, like rent. That’s why we keep pouring money into the store and fighting to keep it open.
Exasperation over reduced opening hours shared by Yupadee “Pheung” Kittawee, owner of a traditional Thai dessert cart Khanom Bueang Wan Phueng Noi, which also featured for the first time this year in the Michelin Bib Gourmand for its crispy and aromatic snack that looks like a coconut and egg crepe.
“This wave is particularly difficult because of the foreclosure measure. We generally operate from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. We’re trying to set up earlier now, but our ingredients take a long time to prepare, so we can’t do much sooner, ”Yupadee told VICE World News on Thursday. “Now, at 7:30 pm, we already have to pack our bags. ”
“I have so many responsibilities and with the limited hours I honestly don’t earn enough to live on,” she said, adding that she hopes more people will be vaccinated so the country can finally get it right. open again. Only about 13 percent of the population received two doses, compared to 39 percent in neighboring Cambodia and 53 percent in the United States.
“I was so happy to have been included in the Michelin guide this year. It brought us so many customers. We were doing so well before the pandemic but now it’s so calm,” she said. added.
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