For those passing by a street food outlet, the wafting aroma of hot Manchurian is hard to ignore. But more than the that, it is the cleanliness of the ‘bandi’ that attracts the customers these days, M. Vijay Kumar, a food vendor on Jeedimetla main road points out.
“Ever since I changed my old open top ‘bandi’ with a partially closed stainless steel structure, there is an increase in my sales,” Kumar recounts, adding that on an average his venture is fetching him Rs. 800 to Rs. 1,000 more each day.
A veteran with more than 12 years of experience, opportunity knocked on Kumar’s ‘bandi’, rather suddenly. It was his mouth-watering Manchurian, served with fresh lemon and onion slices, that attracted the attention of Anne Dahmen and Susi Scultz, members of Sustainable Hyderabad Project.
Subsequently, Kumar underwent a six-day-long intensive training programme conducted by ‘Arogya’, an initiative of Dr. Reddy’s Foundation. Later, he trained about 20 street food vendors specialising in his ‘sector’ that is, ‘Chinese’ food items in Jeedimetla area and because of this active involvement, he also got his new workstation at a subsidised price.
“During the training I learnt the importance of maintaining hygiene — both personal as well as in the cooking process. But I also realised that it is easy to maintain hygiene by taking small measures,” he says.
Affordability is the main reason that attracts people to street food vendors, but many are suspicious of the hygiene. If customers are assured of better food at affordable rates and are served in hygienic conditions they will patronise the outlets more willingly, he observes.
Kumar claims that this aspect is also being appreciated by the people who were trained by him. “Contrary to the assumption, most food vendors are not averse to maintain hygienic conditions. They only lack awareness and will be happy to follow the guidelines if they are given training and some support, like giving subsidies to buy better workstations,” he maintains.
While Kumar is happy with his new set-up, he is also beset with many uncertainties. “In our profession we are often dependent on the mercy of other people.
Apart from the police, GHMC officials and health inspectors, we also have to be in good terms with the shop owners so that they will let us run our business in front of their shops,” he points out.
There are some professional hazards too, Kumar points out.
“As we stand on roadsides during peak traffic hours, we are constantly exposed to the dust and pollution. When we are cooking in partially enclosed workstations, we also have to inhale the fumes produced during cooking as there is no proper ventilation,” he explains.
Apart from these street food vendors also have to stand for more than eight hours without a break due to which they develop pain in ankles, knees and waist. “Most nights we just pop in a pain killer and go to sleep and next day the same thing repeats all over again,” he says.