New Delhi, 24 May:  Earning prestige and recognition for its unflinching commitment and work for the street vendors, the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI) has got a new feather in its cap with Makansutra, a Singapore based street food promotion company, and the Singapore Tourism Board inviting a team of Indian street food vendors to join the World Street Food Congress (WSFC) in Singapore from 31 May to 9 June with their best culinary items.

The eight street food vendors who would be a part of ten member NASVI delegation led by Sangeeta Singh, the manager, street food programs of NASVI include Narayanswami and Akbar  of Dharwar and Bhaskar Urs and Ashok Kumar of Mysore in Karnataka, Gulab Singh and Rajan of Delhi, and Ashok Shah and Vijay Kumar of Patna in Bihar. The WSFC would have 40 corners with street food masters from 32 countries.

Alongside the ten day long international street food carnival, the World Street Food Dialogue would also take place in Singapore on 3-4 June. The dialogue would have presence of more than 50 key speakers including NASVI national coordinator Arbind Singh. Mr. Singh would be speaking on ‘India’s Quest to Legitimize Five Million Street Food Vendors, Future Potentials & Vision of NASVI’. The speakers would share, discuss and present on the ways to preserve, professionalize and create new opportunities for street food vendors across countries.

Addressing a press conference here in the national capital along with the team of street food vendors set to fly for Singapore, NASVI national coordinator Arbind Singh has said, “It would be a great opportunity to participate in such a wonderful street food advocacy event with a team of selected Indian street food masters.  We hope to gain a lot in terms of exposure, cross learning, professional planning and wider linkages with hosts of key actors involved in promoting the street food across many countries”.

Mr. Singh announced that NASVI would form a national company of street food vendors soon to brand their products. The food vendors would have their own shares in the company and linkages would be developed with the formal financial institutions and the mission driven individuals.

Mr. Singh said, “Many a countries protect and promote street foods as street food enterprise contributes immensely to local economy and tourism. The concept of traditional street food has acquired new dimensions in developed countries, with food streets/ food centers emerging as new tourist attractions.  Evidences also suggest that the street food prepared with safe handling of ingredients and water contain more nutritional values in comparison to the foods served in hotels and restaurants.”

He added, “Though street food culture pervades almost all countries of developed regions, the Asian street food is considered as the best in the world. However, India lags behind several south-east Asian countries.  Our cities trail in the race because there is usually no support from formal institutions to improve street food enterprises or protect them from external influences. The usual response at policy level is generally poor.  We never pause to think that promoting street food and cementing the identity of street food vendors is closely linked with preserving and promoting the social- cultural diversity of place and region, and making economy and society equitable and just.”

Mr. Singh said that the most important challenge is to sensitize the policy makers and other stakeholders on key advantages of promoting street food. The country needs a comprehensive National Policy on Protecting and Promoting Street Foods. The cities  need wider and wider consultations, camps and capacity building measures among street food vendors, health department functionaries,  executives of tourism, transport and railways as well as municipal authorities, police administrators and civil society actors.  Creating Street Food Courts in all cities and towns, and celebrating the  social-cultural diversity of India through showcasing vibrant culinary traditions in events like Street Food Festival are  long felt need of the cross sections of society in fast urbanizing India.

Talking about the details of Indian street food vendors’ participation in the WSFC, Sangeeta Singh, Manager, Street Food Programs, said, “While Mr. Narayanswami with Akbar and Mr. Bhaskar with Ashok would be dishing out lips smacking Chicken 65 with steamed rice, and tamarind and lemon rice as well as chicken garlic respectively, Mr. Ashok with Vijay would be making thunder with Liiti Chokha and special garlic soaked mutton rice. Mr. Gulab Singh with Rajan would make his presence felt with his special Bhelpuri with potato crisps having seedless dates and amchur and Pao Bhaji.”

All food vendors would be travelling abroad for the first time, she added. All belong to working class background. Many of them were forced to drop out of formal schooling due to circumstantial compulsions.

“In last three years, we have undertaken sustained street food advocacy campaign.  Organizing successful Street Food Festival is a major component of this street food advocacy.  We believe   that nothing represents the rich tapestry of India’s multi-cultural fabric better than the street foods. The street food is not just palatable, inexpensive and convenient, but also is a large source of employment generation for thousands and thousands of informal workers”, said Sangeeta Singh.

The ecstatic street food vendors who would be leaving Delhi on 26 May morning for Singapore shared how they journeyed over the years coping up with the adversities created by the municipal bodies, police forces and health department people. “We have the acumen and brilliance to develop ourselves as successful street food entrepreneurs. The only barrier is lack of support from government side”, said Bhaskar Urs of Mysore.

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