Ashok Shah, who has been selling litti chokha at Income Tax office in Patna, will be showcasing the lip-smacking Bihari dish somewhere near Merlion in Singapore in the coming few days. In a first-of-its-kind for any street food vendor from India, Shah, as part of an eight-member team of street vendors, would rub shoulders with over 40 other street food masters from 32 countries at the World Street Food Congress in Singapore.

Shah, whose special dish enabled him to win the award of the “best-seller stall” at the recently held Street Food Festival in New Delhi, was more than happy on Friday to talk about his enthusiastic plans for his first ever trip abroad. Besides litti chokha my stall at the Singapore food festival will also offer the special garlic-soaked mutton rice.”

While Narayanswami – a resident of Dharwad in Karnataka – will sell his speciality ‘Chicken-65’ with steamed rice, Gulab Singh – a street vendor who puts his stall near India Gate – will make his presence felt with bhel puri, batata puri and wada pav.

The food congress, which starts from May 31, is being organised by the Singapore Tourism Board and Makansutra, a Singapore-based street food promotion company, which asked the National Association of Street Vendors of India to send a delegation to the world-famous street food festival with the best Indian street culinary items.

The ecstatic street food vendors, who would be leaving Delhi for Singapore, shared their experiences about how they journeyed over the years coping with the adversities created by the municipal bodies, police personnel and health department officials.

Bhaskar, a resident of Mysore, who will showcase his specialities – tamarind and lemon rice and chicken garlic – at the street food conference, said: “We have the acumen and brilliance to develop ourselves as successful street food entrepreneurs. The only barrier is the unfortunate lack of support from the government side.”

Bhaskar’s views were echoed by the national coordinator of NASVI Arbind Singh who talked in detail about how hard the existentialist struggle had been for the street food vendors, who do not have any legal status in the country yet. He argued that in the absence of the legitimacy of their profession, the street vendors find themselves easy prey for the municipal authorities and police personnel who harass them. The Central legislation to regulate and protect the street vendors’ right to vend in public spaces, the Street Vendors (Protection of Livelihood and Regulation of Street Vending) Bill, 2012, is still pending in the Parliament.

“We at NASVI believe that nothing represents the rich tapestry of India’s multi-cultural fabric better than the street foods. Though the street food culture pervades across the world, the Asian street food is considered the best in the world. India, however, lags behind several South-East Asian countries. Our cities trail behind in the race because there is no support from formal institutions to improve the street food enterprises,” Mr. Singh lamented.

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