By N.K.A. Ballal, Retd. Sr. Vice-President, ITDC
About two years back, the Mysuru City Corporation (MCC) had taken a decision to relocate the food vendors, spread all over the city. The reasoning behind such a move was two-folded. Firstly, licence was to be issued to vendors who adhered to basic hygiene principles and secondly, to de-congest the busy by-lanes of the city. But as usual, the officials are slow in enforcing any good decision which benefits the citizens of this city and also ensures that the clean city tag remains for some more time. Vested interest always comes before the city’s interest ?
I have a small suggestion, which if implemented may change the way street food is visualised. In the old city of Ahmedabad at Gujarat, there is a city centre called as “Manek Chowk.” This city centre is a busy junction in the morning with vendors selling fruits and other condiments along with several old jewellery shops around it. Literally a wholesale mandi. Lo, by evening or by 8 pm, this centre gets transformed into a busy food court selling hot piping food to the milling local, domestic and international tourists. Chairs are placed randomly and families come in hordes to taste and eat the food. Affordable, hygienic and hot food. What else can one ask for ?
Since this is a city centre, transportation is also not a problem, even late nights. And is safe for families too. Food is served from about 9 pm to 1.30 am. Later, the food vendors get the area cleaned in the night itself so that the morning business can go on unhindered. No trip to this city is complete without a trip to this Chowk to savour the delicacies on offer.
There are more than 100 carts selling food. All varieties are on offer including the famous chaats, paav bhaajis, varieties of dosas, Gujarati snacks and an array of vegetarian kebabs too. What is the specialty of this place? Surprisingly, it is a sandwich called “chocolate sandwich.” Yes, you heard me right. Oodles of chocolate served between two slices of bread. The special chocolate sauce is made locally and this signature dish has become some sort of local rage. This dish is not a dessert but a main course meal! If you are ready to experiment, you can try the chocolate pizza too, unique in taste.
There is a saying “when in doubt, eat South Indian,” safe food. The array of dosas available is mind-boggling but the most popular is of course the simple masala dosa. Finally, one cannot leave this place without tasting the famous “Asharfi kulfi” a local speciality. Legend is that the owner of this stall was the first one to set up his stall in this Chowk and others followed gradually.
One must be wondering why am I writing about this food Chowk? As I was reading about this successful food court, I was tempted to think why can’t we replicate this food court concept in our main city centre, the place opposite the Devaraja Market, around the Clock Tower or at the Ashoka Road junction, near the Clock Tower. This area gets deserted after 9 pm and is ideal for something like this. It is in the heart of the city and hence transportation is not a problem for the aam aadmi. One can start with about 30 to 40 stalls, selling both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food and expand it as the business improves. This can also become a tourist attraction both for domestic and international tourists.
The city Mayor can send a delegation to Ahmedabad and study the modeal so that it can be replicated with our own local touch. Any takers for this idea ?