Oscar Wilde said that all men end up killing what they love, and in the case of mass tourism, it is the tourist that ends up killing the destination they love. Mass tourism inevitably coincides with mass marketing and the implacable market force of mass demand – which has the power to shape any city in its own image.
Thailand is known the world over for its delicious cuisine and no small part of that reputation owes its existence to the countless thousands of vendors roaming the nation’s streets, all specialising in their chosen dishes. As each new multi-national franchise moves in, Phuket inexorably moves towards the fate of becoming just another bland, anonymous “international city”.
I’m not advocating turning back the tide, not that we could, but we need to be proactive in promoting and sustaining our local food culture. Countless cities have faced this problem before us, so we are not short of good solutions and examples to follow. But what comes first is a recognition that it is happening. After that realisation we can begin to see the importance of preserving or creating new spaces, especially in Patong, where small vendors can ply their trade and showcase Phuket’s unique cuisine to the world.
I agree that for many local people in the know, street food and local delicacies are comparatively easy to find. Many tourists however, may pass them by un-tasted because they don’t know where to look or what to ask.
A dedicated, central location for showcasing a wide range of local cuisines, promoted in tourist brochures and guidebooks, would be a boon to the island’s culinary reputation. With an organised layout and mandatory multi-lingual signs, such a place would make a tourist’s journey of discovering our local cuisine that much easier and more inviting.
Let’s just make sure we keep a little bit of that Thai street-life chaos and not make it too bland.