Is roadside food so bad that we should ban it?

Samosas, chaat, channa-bhature, paranthas—variously hot and spicy but uniformly cheap—could soon be a thing of the past in Delhi, following a Supreme Court order banning the cooking of food at stalls along the roadside.

The move will see shops, some of them over a century old, snuff out their stoves. (See the BBC story here.)

The SC diktat rides piggyback on concerns for hygiene and safety, but as anybody who follows these things knows, these concerns are not new, nor are the orders.

The incomparable Busybee aka Behram Contractor wrote this magnificent piece in The Afternoon Despatch & Courier after a similar order in that City in seven years ago:

“The High Court, in its wisom, has ordered no street food. The order to take immediate effect.

“Which means no pau bhaji in the street, no wada paus, no kanda bhajia with the Shiv Sena chilli powder and coconut chutney, no haka noodles from the Dragan King wheelbarrow, no seekh kababs at Minara Masjid, no gurda-khiri-kaleji at Mahim Bazaar, no Bade Mia behind the Taj (unless Bade Mia is treated as a shop and not a pavement stall), no Khau Gulley at Bhuleshwar, no dosas on the tava outside the Kilachand Bungalow on Nepean Sea Road, no roasted papads on the Bori Bunder pavements, no kulfi in a wheel-barrow, with a weighing scale to weigh it, no Marwar ice-cream, no 2 am coffee from a mobile samovar at Byculla station, no roasted peanuts, no cut fruit salads, no fresh coconut water, no iced golas, no buddhi ka baal (cotton candy), no Clare Road pyalis with ragda, no hot idlis, no fish fried on the roadside off Arthur Bunder Road, no readymade biryani at Nagpada.

I am not complaining, but the court order means that at 2 o’clock in the morning, if a press worker is returning from work and he is hungry, he can’t have a pau bhaji on the road, the bhaji crushed and smoothed with the spatula, the bred soggy with Amul butter. He has to go to the Shamiana for a hamburger and spend more on it than what he earned during the night’s work.

And at 1 o’clock in the afternoon, if a clerk at Nariman Point takes his lunch hour break and does not get a dabba from home, because he does not have a wife or a mother, he can’t have chicken fried rice from the Hungry Eye wagon; he has to go to the Frangipani, a restaurant whose name he cannot pronounce, and order food from a menu in French and Italian that he cannot read. Of course, he can always go to the Mexicana.

The court order means no bananas to pick and choose from the street, no roasted peanuts (the aroma of which spreads down the road like roasting chestnuts in New York), no bhelpuri mixed with clever if dirty hands, no Kashmir sherbets, no cold lassi, no tomato-cucumber-green chutney sandwiches, with ketchup, from the corner sandwichman.

Where’s the need when there is a McDonald’s at every street corner, with Coke prices specially brought down?

No hard-boiled eggs outside auntie’s liquor bars, no baida ghotala in the night, no sitting on rope charpoys, no channa, no Kabuli channa, no streetside paan-wallah with his paan also, perhaps. But that should be all right. They chew and spit and chew and spit and chew and spit and ruin the city. I have nothing more to add. Mr Khairnar may get on his job.

Published on 6 July 2000, reprinted in “Busybee: The Best of Thirty-six Years”, Penguin, 2002

In other words, the Supreme Court order is another silly intervention designed to rob our streets of their vibrancy that will only end up benefitting the high-priced hotels and restaurants, who must be rubbing their hands in glee.



  1. M O H A N said

    IF you come down with E-Coli infection eating form these places – probably you can compare the price of being down with eating at a better place.

    You can also plan it out now since you know for sure its not available.

    Obvioulsy not all the hotels who cook inside are great places. Odd cockroach etc have been found regularly.

    The moral of the story is : Cook yourself, eat yourself, save yourself.

  2. Chetan Krishnaswamy said

    Reminds me of my grandfather Srinivasan, who despite his frail health, would often instruct me to get ” five numbers of unhygenic uddin vadas” – while returning home after my evenings of gallivanting in Mysore . He would always say that their taste lingered on…

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