Dilemma of Indian street food

Hygiene was never an issue. Our houses are spick-and-span, but we dump all our waste on the streets. We cook with our hands, serve with our hands, and eat with our hands. The sweat, dust and smoke in our street food adds its own taste. Long before Ikea arrived, street vendors had invented a modular, multi-purpose item – the cloth. Usually red in colour; moist but not dripping wet.

It is used for wiping the vessels, hands, and the cart. But I was okay with the hygiene standards as I assumed the vendors were merely trying to make a living.

My opinion changed when I watched the ‘How much do you earn?’ videos. Food vendors earn as much as a newbie software engineer, and much to Narayana Murthy’s chagrin – without even working 70 hours a week! Modern Indian street food is neither ‘Indian’ or ‘street’ – thanks to the entry of three new villains- cheese, mayo, and butter. Slabs of butter so large, you’d assume the stall was secretly funded by a heart specialist. Mayo added to momos, chaat, and eventually – your nightmares. Variants like cheese dosae, cheese pizza, and cheese cheese! burgers, pizzas, and even idli-vadae are sold as street food, and it all seems like an excuse to subvert the rules that restaurants have to adhere to.

Today, I am wary of an upset stomach. Diarrhoea has got an MBA from a posh college and returned as IBS. I have become the guy who warns people against fast food. Like a recovering alcoholic, I steel myself when the smell of street food hits me. In The Godfather, Don Corleone says ‘I have learnt more in the streets than any classroom’. I seem to agree. I have gone from fast food to fasting when I encounter tasty food.

(The writer’s views are his own)

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