The chole bhatures, stuffed paranthas, pav bhajis, golgappas, chaats are finger-lickin’ good, as are the melt-in-mouth galauti kababs, chicken rolls, biriyanis, chow-chows, and idiyappams...Well, you can have them served by liveried waiters at gourmet restaurant. But that’s not the real McCoy. For many of us, they are not as tasty until sold from sidewalk-hogging dirigible carts, or small brick-and-mortar stalls—a fixture on city streets. That’s street food, a vibrant subculture populating our cities and towns, dishing out an inexpensive delectable fare, often greasy and spicy. Be it Delhi’s Chandni Chowk, Mumbai’s Khau Galli, Calcutta’s Dalhousie or Lucknow’s Hazratganj, every state has food hubs selling local cuisine. The carts add a sense of community, and give a peek at the microcosm of the city’s millions and its storied history. They are a repository of age-old food culture; they attract local foodies as well as tourists. They make good food accessible and inexpensive.
They don’t do any serious damage to wallets, but are sometimes indulgent on sanitation—a reason why authorities see hawkers as an illegal nuisance selling inferior foods sourced and prepared unhygienically. The street food business has grown exponentially. Hardworking city slickers are its main clientele. This flourishing trade has now attracted unskilled vendors, the majority of them illiterate or semi-literate, having no knowledge whatsoever about food safety. Unhealthy cooking practices, unhygienic handling of raw and cooked food, washing dishes in dirty water, and stinking surroundings because of rotting, leftover food are major deterrents.