For those of you who wince at the thought of street food anywhere – how about transforming your perception by eating your way along the buzzing streets … of India?
Next year, Delhi will host the Commonwealth Games and there are some smart entrepreneurs who are re-writing the rule book by sending out their food on clean as a whistle carts. It could be chaats from Northern India; Nimkis from Bengal; Vada Pav from Bombay, Appams from South India or even momos from Ladakh. The key to it all is hygiene – very much the idea behind a scheme in Thailand that certifies street food vendors as safe to eat. Street food is on the up.
As the recession has deepened all over the world, fine dining has become a thing of the past and eating at home a no frills imperative. So, the idea of nutricious and economical food from all over the culinary world on a cart in a street near you could have legs – provided the hygiene factors are taken well care of. Think of the street theatre and the festive spirit that could raise this culinary experience to even dizzier heights!
In India, eating a la cart is rooted in the strong traditions of street food all over the country. Walk through any of the major cities and there are streets where local, national and international fare fuses into an experience that draws you back. In Mumbai, for example, dishes like bhel puri and pao bhaji have long been the stuff of legend and in his book, Maximum City, Suketa Mehta calls Bombay the “city of vada-pao”, vada being a spiced dal fritter sandwiched between two pieces of pao(bread). Office workers buy this on the route to work like New Yorkers grab a toasted bagel. In Calcutta, there is the traditional soft, airy luchis; slow cooked potatoes flavoured with cinammon, cardamom and asafetida. And all of these street offerings fuse along railway platforms on endless journeys across this vast country as the cry goes up “chai garam” (hot tea) and the smells drift in through the crowd.
Now, a trend is building to formalise many of these offerings into a la cart experience that is likely to grow in sophistication without losing that essential ingredient – the street. Hot Dog was one of the first new ventures to launch carts on popular high streets and malls. Then, there was “Hot and Juicy”; Yo Chinas “Yo-on-the-go”, Street Foods of India owned by Zorawar Kalra and Ferns & Petals “Chatak Chaat” – their food can best be described as taste bombs.
Worldwide, restaurant takings are down by an average of 20%. Many restaurants – even those of signature chefs – are closing. So, what about these small format food chains? Chilli Seasons new food initiative, A La Cart, has recently launched a pilot in Delhi. It serves innovative Pan Asian food including satays, pita pockets and wraps with a distinct gourmet flavour.
Watch out for all sorts of up market High Streets and other such venues transforming the food on offer. Suddenly, the informal world of food could go mainstream and this could transform the logic of several Business models.
Anyone for Glastonbury?