Many years back, when the first fast food outlet opened in Delhi - I think it was a pizza something - I told many friends that they would never be able to compete with our own desi brand of fast foods: the zingy chats, piping hot samosas, delectable and sinful poories and melting hot jalebis -. Ask any LSR student of yore years about the gooey peas chat - mattar chat -and you will be treated to a Proustian expression. And how can we forget the oily but scrumptious bun omelet that has satiated many a hungry student.
Street food has been a tradition in Delhi, one that has withstood the test of time. An interesting outcome of globalisation is this tradition as now you can have chowmein, and momos and swharma at any street corner in India's capital city. Just a few years back one had to make a trip to Delhi Haat to have a plate of momos, now we just walk down the street from our Govindpuri centre and get them.
This is post is not a trip down memory lane, neither is it a gastronomic review. It is an appeal to the powers that be not to take away the soul of our city and leave us rudderless as today's papers rung the death knell of one of the oldest institutions of this city.
Street food is the grand old tradition in Delhi from the times when Kkhomchewallahs (street vendors) used to come to one’s doorstep to sell all kinds of snacks, chaats, ice creams, sweets and more. And yet the Supreme Court has decreed their demise. With a stroke of the pen our highest judicial body has wiped away an age old way of life. The erstwhile street vendors are now to be replaced by pre packed food. Just imagining a cold chola bhatura makes me lose my appetite.
True that hygiene is sometimes not quite up to the mark, but it is also the case in outlets that run from kiosks. Those who have been to Nehru Place must have seen how food outlets operate even though they run from supposedly legal spaces. Somehow the planners forgot simple things like water points!
But there is also a grimmer side to this decision. If street vendors are not allowed to operate many people will lose their jobs and many families will sleep hungry. On the other hand the popularity of these vendors is visible and one wonders where the people who eat there will go.
Just down our gali is a man who sells hot poories and lovely potato subzi. A plate of 5 poories, subzi and a bit of curd comes for 6 rs. Every morning as we drive by the smell of the poories is enticing. The place is crowded with young office goers who have no families, workers, auto richshaw drivers and others busy gobbling their hot morning breakfast. I must confess that I too have succumbed to the temptation and partaken of the treat many times.
The decision to have these vendors only sell food cooked at home and wrapped in some plastic container is the pits. Once again we have been struck by the now sated option that our administrators have made theirs: rather than face problems and find solutions, pass them on or do away with the problem altogether.
In the frenzied rush to make Delhi another Singapore or Shanghai, one cannot forget the millions who serve this city and ensure it runs. One cannot wish away people and institutions that have survived many a storm. They have to remain as they give the city an identity. Imagine Paris without roasted chestnuts, or Singapore without the morning soup vendors. What needs to be done is ensure stringent regulations, subject vendors to rigorous testing and give them assigned space. But do not subject us to cold samosas or pre-packed chat! Our desi fast food can compete with any burger giant if it is allowed to survive!