Despite having the Taj Mahal and scores of world heritage sites in India, we still don’t get the number of inbound tourists we deserve. An international tourist looks for a complete experience, and tasting the local cuisine is a significant part of this experience. And this is where we need to improvise further!  By Maneesh Baheti (Founder & Director – South Asian Association For Gastronomy)

 

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Forget hotels. Even most restaurants that serve local cuisines leave much to be desired in terms of their hygiene standards. Food creates the best memories, and the experience of street food, in particular, makes a trip most memorable. Whether it’s trying out crêpes at every corner of Paris, hot dogs in New York, fish and chips in London, or the street food of Singapore, seldom does a gourmet experience replace or invoke the excitement of trying true local cuisine that is inexpensive and served hygienically.

 

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Singapore took the lead decades ago when it started the concept of street food parks all over their nation, where locals and tourists alike enjoy an inexpensive culinary experience. It has become a tourist attraction in itself, and must-visit for all. Singapore is well known for its robust street food parks with many of its hawker centres making it to food guides. In fact, the nation also bears the distinction of street food hawkers being awarded, including earning Michelin stars. In Brazil, street food parks and food trucks have become a new social innovation for eating out.

 

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With the ‘new normal’ post-COVID-19, there is no better time than now for India to take a cue from this idea, and set up street food parks of our own. This initiative will benefit tourism greatly, and not just enhance the image of our country, but also encourage entrepreneurship, which dovetails into the call for Atmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) by our Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.

 

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In India, one state that has shown some headway in this has been Gujarat, where Ahmadabad already has three approved street food hubs with more on the way. However, apart from Gujarat, only five other states have sent such recommendations to the Centre for street food clusters. In fact, many states across the country boast of a rich street food culture, and can surely participate in this new movement to save India’s cultural identity as well as the livelihood of millions of vendors across the country. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has identified 144 potential sites across the country, which shows us that India is currently at the tip of the iceberg for street food culture and its subsequent explosion.

 

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A Street Food Park will offer a basic infrastructure with toilets (Sulabh has already made a huge stride in this field), potable water, lighting, seating spaces, garbage disposal and parking. It’s a known fact that over 90 per cent of the diseases today are carried by impure water, so providing safe water for cooking will ensure higher standards of hygiene. Every street vendor will be registered and made to go through certification in food preparation, service, and disposal of garbage. Multiple agencies can be involved as stakeholders to ensure these parks are self-sustainable microcosms. Last, but not the least, it will also be a source of generating income for the government—albeit small—by bringing another segment in the tax ambit that is hitherto unthinkable even though we are three million strong.

Related: #SaveTheStreetFood Campaign: How SAAG’s Initiative Is Helping Street Food Vendors During The Pandemic