India, the street food nation - Hindustan Times

India, the street food nation

Hindustan Times | By
Jan 11, 2015 05:12 PM IST

Indian street food is more than just chaat. For some its about snacking, while for some, sustenance. And the recent Street Food Festival in Delhi was a great place to sample its diversity, writes Vir Sanghvi.

Each time I go to the Street Food Festival, organised every winter in Delhi by the National Association of Street Vendors of India, I am struck by how much the food of the streets reflects a changing India.

Street food means a little more than chaat. To us in the middle classes, street food is about snacking: golgappas, bhelpuri, pao bhaji, mutton rolls, etc. But for those who do not belong to the middle classes, street food is about sustenance.

Most street-food vendors cater to labourers, daily-wage earners and people in the not-so-organised sectors, who are too poor to afford to eat at dhabas. So the cuisine they serve on the streets is usually vegetarian (or if it is non-veg, then the meat component is kept to a minimum), low-cost and packed with calories.

Each year at the Street Food Festival, the Delhi middle classes turn up in the thousands (around 40,000 visitors this year, I reckon) and always look vaguely disappointed to find that it is not all channa-bhatura or papri-chaat. They are always taken aback by the Malayalis, still starry-eyed about visiting Delhi, who want them to eat pulao made from an unfamiliar strand of rice, or the Bengalis who try and explain that a chop is a potato cutlet with a centre of keema. (It does not help when the Bongs put up signs outside their stall advertising "Oil-Fried Chop".)

But that’s why I love the festival. It allows us to try the kind of street food we would normally never eat (even when we travel, we rarely go and eat at stalls near building sites or factories). And because the National Association of Street Vendors of India emphasises cleanliness, the health risks are minimised.

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