Bangkok is well known as being a major street food culture country. Every square inch of the pavement is often used as a place to set up shop. Vendors often park their carts in the street near key locations like Family Marts or the ubiquitous 7/11 convenience stores. It is not a joke. You can walk down 3 blocks and encounter three 7/11 stores. Things revolve around food in Thailand. The 7/11 often forms the centerpoint of the neighborhood. This is largely because of one thing--massive gridlock traffic.
McDonalds, KFC, Burger King among other huge conglomorate fast food companies actually deliver food vis a vis motorbikes. It is because the motorbike is the most able to negotiate through gridlock with any sort of speed. Part of this is developed out of necessity. You are dealing with massive often brutal traffic jams; basically running any sort of errands beyond one is impossible. One trip to go see one place in Bangkok takes an entire day. It took us one hour to go 3 blocks before hitting the toll road out. If you want to eat, the local area is what you must rely upon. What fulfills this need is street food.
There are other things to consider to when you come across certain things in a culture. Often, things develop out of a sense of necessity versus logic. Bangkok is a city defined by a certain sense of necessity. The Travel Channel skims often the surface of things. No Reservations by Anthony Bourdain is probably one of the better celebrity chef TV hosts around. I have been asking more crazy questions like "Why did Thailand develop this culture of street food?" Anthony Bourdain seems to find a beauty in it. I think it is beauty out of necessity.
It's the wages. The basic wage for a Thai worker is about 200 baht a day. With the 2011 exchange rate going at about 30 to a dollar, it's not exactly something to be cheery. You are earning roughly $6.60 per DAY! Unemployment is rather low here. Why? They actually create work for themselves. If you can make fried rice, Thai deserts, or make noodles, you have a job. Grab a cart. Grab a propane stove. You are in business. Now most of the food stalls would never pass the food police. In fact, most vendors do not use hot water, clean dishes in the street, and generally make due. America won't let you do this. America regulates everything. If you lose your job, you don't have the option of setting up a small cart to make Thai fried chicken (which is pretty darn tasty.)
This is a chicken that we saw across the street. It was obviously a whole chicken, and the vendor was making chicken and rice. You can see the price.
The food costs about 35 baht for the chicken and rice dish. I think it was 30 baht for noodles.
This is what you get. The dark sauce next to the chicken is spicy. In fact, spicy food is really abundant, but it is not just for the sake of eating the hottest food.
I have for the most part been very open to experiencing everything in terms of food. I do mind the mantra of looking for crowds and consistent turnover. I believe in not just experiencing a place, but analyzing how a place functions. All cities are essentially complex systems of relationships and networks.
You will never see this in America.