For scores of students staying in hostels, bachelors and many families, the wayside “Thattukadas” have remained a favourite, despite the innumerable fashionable joints that have sprung up in various parts of the city.

Food served hot and tasty and affordable and safe — because it is prepared in limited quantities inside homes — has been the USP of these eateries. Despite occasional complaints, the small-time vendors have for long served a requirement for cheap and tasty dinners for night owls and film-goers.

With the Food Safety and Standards Act being strictly implemented in the State, food safety officials have managed to register a good number of these vendors as food business operators. “The food served by ‘Thattukadas’ is safer than what is served in many other eateries because no storage is involved. They serve food cooked on the spot and finish off whatever raw materials or food prepared for cooking that they bring with them every evening. The problem is not with their food but with the environs in which it is cooked and served,” Commissioner of Food Safety Biju Prabhakar says.

“Most of them set up shop near some waste dump or over open drains, because it is convenient for them to throw away waste water. Cooking in unhygienic environs is a violation of the Act. Another potential problem is with regard to the safety of the water they provide to customers, for drinking as well as for washing. There are also issues in the case of bigger wayside eateries, where the food handlers and those engaged to serve food often do not follow hygienic practices,” he says. Food safety officials have initiated awareness classes for “Thattukada” owners on food safety issues and how food should be handled safely. The vendors were brought together with the help of SEWA, and more such classes would be held.

Most of the small “Thattukadas” serve standard home-cooked fare while less than five per cent of these joints serve non-vegetarian fare. Eggs are an integral part of the fare offered by all, and one complaint which reached food safety officials was about the quality of the eggs.

One idea that Mr. Prabhakar has put forth is that safe zones be created for wayside vendors of food. The government can earmark areas where good lighting and safe water can be provided, where the vendors can set their carts and sell food. He suggests that Chala is one area, which can remarkably be turned around into a food street as in say, Bangkok, by evening, as most businesses here shut shop by the end of the day and the area is practically empty.

He has mooted that mobile fast food vendors be encouraged to be more hygienic and a stamp of approval be given to those units which follow the 30-point guidelines drawn up under the Food Safety Act.