Thailand

Last orders loom at Uncle Pan's Bangkok noodle stall

For three decades everyone from cops and builders, to street cleaners and partying rich kids have gorged on noodles at Uncle Pan's streetside stall in Bangkok's chic-est neighbourhood.

A woman working at a street noodle stall as a customer eats in the Phrakanong district of Bangkok © (AFP)

A woman working at a street noodle stall as a customer eats in the Phrakanong district of Bangkok © (AFP)

BANGKOK - For three decades everyone from cops and builders, to street cleaners and partying rich kids have gorged on noodles at Uncle Pan's streetside stall in Bangkok's chic-est neighbourhood.

But now it is the 67-year-old food vendor who is no longer welcome at his pavement spot, a victim of a purge of food stalls by Bangkok's governor who says they are cluttering the capital's curbs.

With dishes that average 35-55 baht ($1-1.5) a plate, most of Bangkok's curbside cooks don't make a fortune selling their fare that spans grilled seafood skewers to spicy papaya salads.

But they have won global acclaim as some of the finest fast food chefs in the world, fuelling a booming city besotted by eating.

Like his peers, Pan Chaiyasit works behind a small push cart from where he dishes out yellow egg noodles -- topped with pork and wanton dumplings -- to customers who cluster together on plastic chairs spread across the pavement.

The family-run stall is a fixture of a neighbourhood that has exploded with development over the past few decades.

But with the deadline to clear off the street expiring this week, Pan must either uproot his restaurant to a new locale or downsize the shop so it doesn't spill onto the sidewalk.

"I've been selling here since there was nothing," the genial, apron-wearing uncle told AFP, explaining that the Thonglor area was a tree-studded backwater when he first set up.

Today his customers sit ringside to a central artery of Bangkok's ritziest neighbourhood, lined with tower blocks, upscale restaurants and night clubs.

That makes for a varied clientele that pulls from all layers of Thailand's social fabric.

"Office workers, police, soldiers... even if they drive a Mercedes Benz, they have the same right to eat here," Pan told AFP, wiping away a bead of sweat as waiters buzzed around him to serve an after-work crush.

Good business, which sees Pan rake in around 30,000 baht a month ($870), rests on these close ties to the neighbourhood.

"We all know each other in this street. Everyone, factory workers, company staff, they know me and we are friends... if we move, we won't have these relationships."

Yet city officials insist the foot paths must be "returned to the public" and have laid out a plan to bar tens of thousands of street stalls from the capital's main roads, instead squeezing them into side streets or hawkers' centres.

Pan isn't sure what the future holds -- other than more bowls of soup.

"Even though we sometimes face troubles we have to keep selling. We have to fight to survive."