In the bustling streets of Chor Bazar, Mumbai, we came across a hawker who expressed his views on the food he sells and the customers who oblige. He says, “Diarrhoea is a part and parcel of our customers’ lives. But the ones who are loyal keep coming back and eventually develop immunity against the germs. I don’t want to boast, but our hand-cooked fast food is far more effective than any vaccination in the country. That’s why, when Indians go to foreign lands, they find themselves in the pink of health, whether they eat Spanish cucumber or drink water from the toilet.”
Shyam, a panipuri vendor concurs, “I would never consume the brown watery concoction that goes into my golgappas.” However, his customers swear by the taste of that concoction and keep calling “once more” even after they have had their panipuri. He adds, “I always carry a pint of vodka so that whenever I fail to beat down my hunger, I make vodka golgappas to ensure that my meal is germ-free.”
Ramesh Puri, a roadside vendor by profession and a TV aficionado otherwise, points out, “I am highly thankful to Rocky and Mayur for promoting the veritable Indian cuisine while cruising through the potholes on our highways. And for your information, those guys are not getting any thinner by the day, just like our food is not getting any healthier!”
16-year-old Ramu (a roadside fast food vendor), who sets up his stall amidst the skyscraping MNCs of Gurgaon, claims, “I am very happy to see that I never got education, because it is the educated lot that comes to my stall the most.” Be it the Aloo Tikki burger at McDonald’s or the sub of the day at Subway, nothing matches Ramu’s ‘Dabba lunch’ which continues to rule the corporate world of Gurgaon. However, when we asked Ramu what he likes to eat, he said that he can afford to frequent fast food restaurants in his vicinity thanks to his soaring sales.
Chang Hiung Chong, an immigrant from Tibet recently joined the ‘Momo Bros’ club, the official association of momo vendors in Delhi. Chang says, “What we dump into our dumplings, even I don’t know. But they do sell by the dozens here. My mama would be proud that I finally started cooking, though I haven’t yet retrieved my two fingers that went missing in the process.”
“Samosa at Laloo’s without any aloo” is a one-of-a-kind shop in Patna, which is run by S. M. Jha, an ardent follower of ex-chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. Jha says, “I will continue to sell samosas with the most unexpected and unhygienic fillings to Bihari junta until Lalu ji comes back to power. This is my way of paying my respects to the great neta.”
Raja babu, who has a flourishing business of bhajis and puris on Marine Drive exclaims, “People keep coming back to taste the exotic mixture of condiments that I use in my pao-bhaji! And it works great, for if they had seen the macerated, decaying vegetables that go into it, they would have lost their appetite, just like me. But the spices mask the effect of the rotting vegetables and maybe even kill the bacteria; who knows!”
Aslam is the owner of the famous sweetmeat shop ‘Gulabo ki jalebbi’ at Chandni Chowk, a family business established in 1893. However, none of the family members have ever tasted the much sought-after jalebi, as Aslam claims, “We have been blessed with a great family heritage. What goes as ingredients into our jalebis might be as old as my late great-grandfather. So we prefer not to take chances with our health.”
Although conservative in their own eating habits, the feriwallahs of India know that they have nothing to worry about. Come rain or KFC, their sales are maintained at an optimal high at all times, as they continue to tantalize the Indian taste buds.