Unknown perfumes, the colours of a rainbow on a skewer, strange shapes bathing in a soup and a risk appetite perhaps, this is what makes us say : "This one, please" while pointing to something strange we've just spotted on a stall.
The most varied in the world!
It is as a curious tourist, and a gourmet I confess, that I first came to "street-food". From outstretched hands agitated through the windows of a bus to sell you chilli peppers packaged in Indian newspapers, to the stuffed banana leaves on the beach in Thailand, to the small two-wheeled carts at the foot of Hong Kong's skyscrapers, I had the opportunity to test some culinary UFOs and one thing is sure: street food is certainly the largest range of taste !
Modern gastronomy is of course about taste but also about aesthetics, the harmony of colours, volumes, a small touch of green, red, small dots of sauce, even the shape of the plate matters ! In short, eyes eat first !
But there, thousands of miles away from home, lost in a new culture, this expression takes on another dimension...on a street corner, the eye comes to rest and the finger points... a "thing". We then ask the salesman with a look and a smile, hoping that he reassures us about our choice and then, oh surprise oh joy! Then we repeat the experience, again and again...and once satisfied, sitting on a piece of pavement, taking a step back from the profusion of culinary UFOs, one thing jumps out: we are not alone.
Street food, a real driver of social inclusion
It is particularly true in Asia where it is a true living cultural heritage thanks all its qualities: it is varied, fast, nutritionally interesting, very cheap and available at all times. But above all, in my opinion, it is a wonderful social link, a real driving force for "living together". You'll meeet as many business men at lunchtime as less fornutate people...
However, this street cuisine is often badly considered by local authorities, for whom it reflects the opposite image of the modernity they wish to show.
The importance of street-food in economic development
Although often rejected by politicians, street-food is a great development opportunity for disadvantaged people and a real contribution to the local economy. Requiring little or almost no investment, it allows those who need it most to achieve some form of financial autonomy. This is what the World Health Organization details in its analysis of the benefits of street cooking for the preservation of social ties and the food supply of the poorest populations. It points out the formidable economic vector that it represents and the lever of independence that it constitutes for a host of small structures, often family structures, which truly create employment - particularly for women for whom it is a real means of independence.
Hide this kitchen I can't see.
The authorities are rightly concerned to prevent any health risks and in this area the street kitchen is the ideal culprit. The methods of preparation, the cooking or even the hygiene of those who do it or that of their cooking utensils are the first things to be pointed at, after all, isn't that what we are seeing? Yet studies in this area show that the main risk factor is water. Water, quite simply. Water used in restaurants, in homes and in street kitchens. Water whose access, treatment and intrinsic qualities are the responsibility of the authorities.
Governments remain sceptical about the benefits of street cooking and under the guise of combating public health problems tend to sanitize the plates and cultures that go with it. For cooking remains above all an art, a culture - and for street cooking, a culture accessible to all!
Fish Ball Revolution
Behind this name that lends itself to smiling, hides the name of an event that lends itself less to it. In February 2016 in Hong Kong's Mong Kok district, following the arrest of a street vendor on Chinese New Year's Eve, a demonstration pitted law enforcement against young Hong Kongers and street restaurateurs. Many of the street vendors were street vendors selling fish balls, which are particularly popular in southern China.
Who made the arrest? Health standards not respected.
Local groups are then formed to protest against the presence of mainland Chinese traders who are expanding into Hong Kong to buy goods in bulk, and against laws that they see as encroaching on Hong Kong culture, such as the closure of street vendors who are no longer allowed in traditional markets, or as on New Year's Eve in the streets.
At the end of these demonstrations, which resulted in injuries on both sides, around 40 people were arrested and prison sentences of up to 7 years were pronounced. We are then halfway through the umbrella revolution and recent events that began in mid 2019, which have left several people dead and hundreds injured, and since then the street food is taking on a whole new flavour...