Fuchkas (also known as pani puri, which are small crispy shells filled with mashed potatoes and chickpeas), Puris (bread stuffed with potatoes or lentils) and muri makhas (spicy puffed rice) are what rule the streets of Dhaka, Bangladesh. When I came to Clark, it took me a while to accept the fact that I wouldn’t be able to make a pit stop around the corner of the street and get something cheap to eat before I head out to do my daily errands. Christmas in New York City this year somewhat reminded me of my days back in Dhaka city. The Gyro and hot dog stands in almost every street at the heart of NYC were the perfect solution to my endless cravings for street food.
The street food in developing countries is quite a simple affair: street food vendors will have their own cart or a box of the food they want to sell and they will set it up in the most crowded parts of the city. Many would be surprised to know that these food bites on the way to go actually make up 40% of one’s daily diet in the developing world. However, in many cases, it may not be the healthiest choice; but it definitely is one of the most convenient and inexpensive ones.
Marinated potatoes sold on the streets of India. Pretzels on the streets of Germany
In Dhaka city many who work far away from home will grab a Paratha (fried bread made with flour) with fried eggs or vegetable curry during their lunch breaks. Some vendors have benches at the back of their cart where customers can sit down and eat, while others just choose to stand. The popular culture of tea-drinking in Bangladesh is complemented by the numerous tea-stalls on every street. Trust me when I say this: a cup of tea worth BDT 4 (approximately $0.05) is one of the most delicious drinks you’ll ever have.
One of the biggest concerns of the consumers of street food is if the food they eat is hygienic and safe. Most vendors are struggling, unemployed workers trying to make a living by selling food. Many of them resort to buying low-quality ingredients while others are not educated enough to know proper hygiene standards. Hence, eating street food can sometimes make people ill. Even though the harmful consequence of street food is a common knowledge, many choose to consume them anyways. The street food industry is booming in many developing countries. It has become more than just a means of survival. These stalls of food on the sidewalks are such an important part of the city’s culture that it has become a tourist attraction.
Every Momo sold on the streets of Nepal or every Gyro sold on the streets on NYC, has a piece of the neighborhood’s culture is attached to it. It’s the distinct culture of a city and the hard work of the vendor who makes his lot of the day, which makes every street food have its unique taste. And as long as there are people like me who eat Fuchkas the first day they are back home, our respective cultures will be preserved.
By Suaida Firoze