Street food: A savoury business

When we walk around the streets of Basantapur, Baneshwor, Nakhipot, Jhamshikhel and Mangal Bazaar among others, we can easily sense the waft of various food items being cooked on roadsides. Carts and moving stalls are often seen surrounded by people, especially in the evenings. Street foods in recent years have become popular. Students and young girls and boys often are found savouring various delicacies which are served hot on the streets.

Street food contributes to authentic gastronomic experiences for tourists, offering a link between food, place and tourism.

But have we ever realised that there is a huge economic contribution from street foods? Street foods are popular all across the globe. For example, in Kenya, street vending falls on micro-enterprise which provides income to 70 per cent of Kenya’s population. While street foods create income opportunities for many households, customers get to relish different items at reasonable prices. This creates a win-win situation for both the vendors as well as consumers. Similarly, the wholesale and retail of food, along with activities linked to Singapore’s 6,700 food service locations account for two-thirds of food industry’s GDP contribution and four-fifths of the employment it supports.

Given these facts, in Nepal also street foods can contribute to our economy. Street food vending can provide employment opportunities to many households while offering various delicacies to customers at a reasonable price. Street food also adds vibrancy to urban life. Various food items could become a way for tourists to know about the place, culture and food habits of communities. For example, street vendors who sell baras — a delicacy among the Newar people, which is associated with Newari culture — can be a good source of information for those who are taking the first bite of this food item.

Despite the demand for street foods and the contribution of street food vendors to economy, they still face many challenges. At times they face difficulties while running their businesses, as municipal authorities tend to chase them away.

And there are hygiene issues. Kathmandu, for example, has become a polluted city, with dirt and dust all around. In such a situation, people who relish street foods also often think twice before making a beeline for a particular stall.