In Defence of Street Food
by Nisha Katona
Food is a little like fashion. There are fads that are bang on trend, there are timeless classics, there is the readily forgiven ethnic scene and the crushingly difficult haute couture of the Michelin aspiration.
And like fashion, certain genres inspire jaded disdain at any one moment – the ra-ra skirt, the slanket and the onesie of the food world now, seem to be the concepts of ‘dirty food’, ‘pulled pork’ and sadly for me, ‘street food’.
It is very easy to roll ones eyes at the ubiquitous. But are we being too harsh in our judgment? Are these genres of food, in fact, timeless; simply adding to the colours of the ever brightening food scene?
It is this question that keeps me up night after night. I built Mowgli Street Food only 9 months ago. I gave up my life as a Barrister and the hallowed security that went with that. Everything I own, or saved or inherited is in her. I would not have done this to build a vanity project based on a fad with no legs. And yet-night after night I moot the need to remove the words ‘Street Food’ from our title.
Mowgli is a pet name I called my children. It is a soft round word filled with love for me. Street food, the thorny phrase, to me, is the way a billion Indians eat every day. In fact it is not just Indians that eat like this. Street Food is the daily dining experience of the majority of the worlds population.
The restaurant is an eating construct of the cold and wealthy west. In the East, food has a brisker, more intense articulation. In the heat of the East, workers and diners do not want to sit inside a stuffy building filled with cooking fumes. Air conditioning, refrigeration, complex kitchen equipment, expensive overheads all militate towards humble great, food pedlars selling their signature dishes from open stalls on the worlds chaotic and peopled pavements.
Street food is the way Indians eat on the way to and from school, the office, at railway stations, outside their homes, day in day out. Street Food is a concept as old as the foundations of the earth. It was a concept born as soon as currency and community breathed their first.
Street food is to the food world what shoes are to fashion. From Choo’s to Chappals, it may have been hijacked by the niche but it will always be a humble, undress necessity.
For me, and for Mowgli, thankfully, whichever way I look at it, Street Food has legs and in a good way. I hope for all of us, that the informal, honest, smash and grab, big flavoured concept of world Street Food scene is going nowhere.
About the Author: Nisha Katona is a food writer, Indian Cookery teacher and founder of Mowgli Street food. She has series of Youtube video tutorials that have a worldwide following. She has over 22000 twitter followers for her daily recipes and live Curry Clinics. She has recently worked on a filming project with Food Network. Professionally Nisha has worked as a Barrister for over 20 years in the area of Child Protection. In 2008 the Department of Culture, Media and Sport appointed her as trustee of National Museums Liverpool and in 2009, the Cabinet Office appointed her as an Ambassador for Diversity in Public Appointments, and in this capacity has been engaged as an expert advisor by The Guardian newspaper.
Pimp my Rice
Available from Nourish Books from October 2015
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