They’ve been some of your favourite haunts, the time in college you gathered for chai and samosa, or lip-smacking egg bhurji pav. Discussed college crushes or later, office politics with some piping hot adrak wali chai. And deep in your heart, you know that you’re never too old to stop by for a plate of pani puri.
Taking note of the immense role played by the good old street food vendors aka the thela walas of the neighbourhood in serving hot, tasty, affordable and delicious food in every nook and corner of the city. Food that fills the stomach and warms the heart and makes a city that much more human and approachable. Food that does not the cost the earth but is nevertheless spotted when it comes to taste, innovation and diversity. From the chaat wala to the kulfi thaan, the momo seller to the misal pav dude, the kaathi kabab magician to the maestro who manages to supply unlimited mutton thalis at almost throw away prices, how many times do we acknowledge-let alone thank them for enhancing our lives and moods in different ways?
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Here's where award winning chef and noted psychotherapist from Pune Rachna Patil hopes to make a difference, with the novel and thoughtfully fashioned Tapri Awards (street shack awards) in January 2019. (By the way, tapri is just local Mumbaiyya and Puneri slang) for street shacks that sell food.
The award show that is convened by the group Eat out at Tapri-a 15,000 plus strong group of foodies and thela owners, hopes to recognise the immense value added by street food vendors to the ethos of a city. "In the course of my culinary ventures, I started realising just how much we owe to the existing street food culture in the city, state and country. Yet for all the fact that we call ourselves a generation of foodies we don't acknowledge the roots of our beautiful gastronomic culture," she says. Case in point? "You go to a five-star hotel, consume a meal that costs Rs 5000 or more and think nothing of tipping the wait staff a hefty Rs 500. Yet when it comes to that delicious samosa you ate on the street would you even dream of tipping the guy who made it for you ?" asks Patil. Guilty as charged.Also Read: Street Food in Delhi You Should Not Miss this Spring
These thela guys work hard. "They start work at 5:00 am and wind up past midnight-all so we can have some spice in our lives. Street food is where life plays out: from the vada pav that defined our college days to the fish cutlets that we binged on post our first break up to the bhel and chhole bhature that are a must-have whenever friends visit. No one really has memories of the time they ate at a luxury hotel, do they?" asks Patil. "Plus you need to consider the IT professionals and office workers who have come from another city. They live off the street wares; no one even thinks of the office canteen."
From making videos showcasing the wares served up by various street food vendors to posting innovative write-ups on Facebook to educating the street vendors on hygiene and acquiring permanent licenses so that the authorities don't have a reason to complain the Eat Out At Tapri Group is covering the varied ground. "Using social media is an important aspect for us," says Shamal Ram Mohite, a member of the group. "These street food dudes have not really tapped into the potential of Facebook or Instagram, but that is what gets them the fastest recognition."
On her part, Shamal has joined the team with a focus on women empowerment. "My mission is to help, guide and cheer on female food entrepreneurs specifically," she says. "Unto that end, I speak to them, listen to their problems, counsel them to adopt better cooking practices and optimising their resources. With just a little care like using gloves and clean water, these vendors have it in them to be up there."
Also Read: Taking Care of the Community with Food
Their compatriot Sarvesh Jadhav, corporate chef at Pune's multi-cuisine Austin Cafe and a professor of catering puts it this way. "Though the thela guys get a rap when it comes to hygiene, it's the healthiest food because it's consumed fresh. Frankly, everything I know and understand about cooking and serving food comes from these guys. Don't overstock the fridge with stale wares and risk the customer' health; serve freshly prepared, hot food only and stay true to your roots."
What's more, thela guys are the best when it comes to innovation as well. "Fish kachori and prawn bhajiyas served with mint chutney; aloo puri with a dressing of chopped onions and pomegranate, their creativity knows no bounds," says Jadhav. In fact, he says, recognising street food is a fine way of increasing tourism and niche carving an identity for one's city. "Street food is practically a religion in Malaysia and Singapore. They are proud of it, and rightly so. But in India, we take our uniquely desi Chinese and other singular creations entirely for granted. We are a nation of foodies, who ironically don't recognise the food that has sprung up from our soil as well as its multicultural ethos. We'd rather give awards to big restaurants and chains and leave out these guys who have taught us the basics of good food."
Also check out: Living Foodz Epicurean Guild Awards 2019
For the moment, the Tapri Awards are basically centred around Pune and Satara but hope to go to every Indian city. Watch this space so you can check out the winners on January 27, 2019.
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