Every street in Peenya seems to have a mobile canteen of its own

Every morning, at around 8.30 a.m., she drives her white Maruti van to her usual spot opposite the Ganesha temple in Peenya. She empties out the van, setting up her ‘restaurant' right on the footpath, and begins preparing various dishes for the day.

Meet N. Lalita, one of the few women who run mobile canteens in Peenya industrial area. The white Maruti and her pleasant demeanour have made her popular among workers in the area for nearly eight years now.

Her culinary expertise is basic — pulao, chapattis, ragi mudde, chicken, fish or vegetable curry, boiled eggs, rasam and refreshing curd rice. Items such as chapatti are prepared at home with the help of her family, while rice and curry are made on the spot. It all tastes like wholesome food from home.

How does she feel about driving the van every day? “It was a matter of necessity. My husband also works as a driver at a bank nearby. As he can't drive me here himself, he taught me to drive. This is convenient as I don't have to depend on anyone,” she says.

Rush hour

Lalita's place is most crowded between noon and 2 p.m., when industrial workers break for lunch. Most of her regulars are factory workers or employees who earn modest wages.

“The women would pack lunch for themselves, but the men don't like doing that,” explains Mangala, who works with an NGO in the area. “None of them like the food served in their factories, though.”

“Our lunch break lasts only for half an hour. Going to restaurants in such a case is not feasible,” says Gopal Krishna, one of Lalita's customers. “We have to go find a place to sit, place the order and then wait for a long time for food to be served. Mobile canteens like these save time.”

Every street in Peenya seems to have a mobile canteen of its own. A resident estimated that there are about 25 such canteens and each of them have their own signature Maruti vans.

Flexible eatery

Lalita manages cooking, serving and keeping accounts single-handedly. “When the crowd is more in the afternoons, we sometimes serve ourselves while Aunty is busy with other customers. This kind of liberty is not possible in other places,” says Santosh S., another customer.

‘Aunty' is willing to give them lunch on credit too. “These are very trusted customers of mine. But there are times when people take advantage. I don't worry much about them though,” she says.

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