‘CIA’-like street food vendors first on scene to feed Thai protesters

BANGKOK (AFP) – With an intelligence network so good they have been compared to the CIA, Thai street vendors are often first on the scene at “guerilla” democracy protests in Bangkok, where they hawk sour meat and fishballs to a democracy-hungry crowd.

After a government crackdown last week, protest groups have begun keeping the venues for their demonstrations demanding the resignation of Premier Prayut Chan-o-Cha secret until the last minute, in a bid to outsmart authorities.

But protesters have quickly noticed that they are often second on the scene, behind food vendors setting up their carts and readying themselves for a busy night of brisk sales.

Meatball seller Rattapol Sukpa said he stays ahead of the curve by monitoring Facebook for hints of the latest locations, and is in constant contact with other vendors who tip each other off.

“My earnings were good before, but selling at the protest sites, you’d sell out faster than usual,” the 19-year-old told AFP as he set up near Victory Monument. Business has been booming since the protest movement kicked off in July, with the vendors now a regular feature on the sidelines.

A street food vendor watches as pro-democracy protesters give the three-finger salute during a rally in Bangkok. PHOTO: AFP

A post calling on people to come and rally at a new protest venue on Tuesday carried a picture of a food cart with the caption “Let’s send the CIA there first”.

The bonanza has also given Rattapol a better work-life balance, he said, enabling him to sell out his entire cart by 8pm instead of the usual midnight closing time.

Protesters are calling for serious changes to Thailand’s status quo but their gatherings also bring a food festival vibe.

Sour meat and rice sausage balls, a delicacy of Thailand’s northeast provinces, hang like beaded necklaces from a street vendor’s push cart, ready to be fried up and served with cabbage in plastic bags.

Also on the menu are hotdogs, soups, cold drinks, pickled fruits and satay sticks.

Some vendors have their cooking stations attached to their motorbikes, making it easier to high-tail to the rally zones.

Selling food to captive crowds often numbering in the tens of thousands is increasingly lucrative, said Anucha Noipan, a fried chicken vendor who used to make USD97 a day and doubled his income to about THB6,000 (USD192) a day.