Imagine life in a metro without the street food vendor. For the millions who rush to their offices in the morning hours without breakfast or lunch and who cannot afford on a daily basis the costs involved at the neighbourhood branded outlets, the street vendors offer not only hope but also freshly prepared breakfast, lunch and snacks at a reasonable price.
Whether it is Kolkata’s Salt Lake city, New Delhi’s Nehru Place or Noida’s Film City, come lunch time, all and sundry make a bee line to these ramshackle food stalls, offering diverse menu, from Momos to Chowmein, from Pav Bhaji to Bread Omelette and a variety of South Indian dishes, besides routine rice, Indian breads and curries.
Not just the office goers, bachelors and transit visitors but also picnickers seeking a break from the routine go for these delicious items. Yet, street vendors are looked down upon, often harassed by police and civic authorities and projected by sections of the media, doctors and high society as being unhygienic and sellers of sub-standard food.
But these very street vendors were recently not only welcomed but also recognised and rewarded in distant Singapore.
The occasion was the World Street Food Congress and in attendance were Narayanswami and Akbar of Dharwar and Bhaskar Urs and Ashok Kumar of Mysore in Karnataka, Gulab Singh and Rajan of Delhi, and Ashok Shah and Vijay Kumar of Patna in Bihar, led by Sangeeta Singh, Manager, Street Food Programmes at the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI).
“We believe that nothing represents the rich tapestry of India’s multi-cultural fabric better than the street foods. The street food is not just palatable, inexpensive and convenient, but also is a large source of employment generation for thousands and thousands of informal workers”, said Sangeeta Singh.
Street food masters from 32 countries attended the Congress, organized by Makansutra, a Singapore based street food promotion company, and the Singapore Tourism Board from May 31 to June 9.
While Narayanswami with Akbar and Bhaskar with Ashok wooed Singaporeans with their lip smacking Chicken 65 with steamed rice, and tamarind and lemon rice respectively, Ashok with Vijay won their hearts with Litti Chokha and special garlic soaked mutton rice. Gulab Singh, a popular vendor at India Gate, along with Rajan made their presence felt with his special Bhelpuri with potato crisps having seedless dates and amchur and Pao Bhaji.
Interestingly, during the hygiene training at the Shetoc Institute for the participating street food vendors, the Indian team, which was clubbed with American, Thai and Malaysian groups, received food safety and hygiene certificates from the Singaporean Tourism authorities.
Not just that, Ashok Sah and Vijay Chaudhary, who served shahi litti chokha and litti mutton, bagged the Best Critic’s Award at the Congress. Indeed, with ‘Die Die Must Try Street Foods of India’ as their theme, the Indians created gastronomic ripples in the city-state.
Later, addressing the World Street Food Dialogue, NASVI Chief Arbind Singh said, “India has tremendous potential in street food vending and advocacy efforts are on to influence Indian government to tap the potentials”.
The Singapore event has come as a morale booster to the Indian street vendors. It is high time we in India too recognise and reward the culinary skills of these five million vendors by not only patronising them but also providing infrastructural support to enable them to serve our taste buds more deliciously and hygienically.
As Singh succinctly put it, India needs a comprehensive National Policy on Protecting and Promoting Street Foods. Creating Street Food Courts in all cities and towns, and celebrating the social-cultural diversity of India through showcasing vibrant culinary traditions in events like Street Food Festival are long felt need of the cross sections of society in fast urbanizing India.