5 Places Where Street Food Culture Has Found New Life

Street food vendors and hawkers form a multi-billion dollar global industry that is crucial to the economies of many cities. Unfortunately in some places there are not enough laws protecting their interests. Street food markets are often attractive to tourists, but in many cities they are community pillars that students, the working class and the urban poor rely on. If the street food industry collapses, multitudes of people suffer the consequences. Covid-19 has posed a threat to all public sectors, including the street food industry. Some of them have largely gone under, like in Italy, France, Morocco, Finland but some other street food markets have managed to stay afloat and survive this pandemic by adapting in clever ways.


“#MyCovidStory – Volunteers-59” by UN Women Asia & the Pacific is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Adaptability is always key. In Bangkok, the lack of tourists has had a crippling effect on the city’s famous street food markets. As the lockdown protocols strengthened, more and more small businesses suffered and the buzzing streets dampened in spirit. So, their vendors have now started connecting with each other so that they can be ahead of the crowd and start selling their food whenever there is a protest against the government. Some of the more established vendors are making doorstop deliveries as well. It seems to be a desperate measure but it’s a way of surviving for a cuisine that’s such a huge part of Thai culture.


“Taiwan tradition market (6) — 台灣傳統市場 (6)” by jennyhsu47 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Before the pandemic the street food scene in Taipei, Taiwan was something that was hard to comprehend unless you had seen it for yourself. Vendors fed almost 20,000 hungry mouths but during the pandemic foot traffic as low as 5,000 people per day has been recorded, marking a 75% decrease in potential customers for vendors. Street food businesses suffered losses of 40% to 60% but the Taiwanese were quick to get back on their feet. In a measure to save their economy, food delivery services teamed up with many street vendors and some have seen their businesses recover by 10% to 20%. Now, for the first time ever, there is an infrastructure that connects the whole of Taipei to street food markets no matter where in the city they may be.


“Street Food Vendor” by Karl Grenet is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

India is a developing, rapidly growing and extremely young country with an average age of 25. Many Indians have no space in their apartments/homes to cook meals and as a result certain street food markets in India attracted over 50,000 people every day. Even people who have the time and equipment to regularly prepare home-cooked meals enjoy their street or junk foods on occasion. Food, everywhere, speaks of an unspoken cultural movement, so when the lockdown was implemented, some vendors started operating from their commissary kitchens (or “cloud kitchens”). Now, just like in Taipei, Indian food delivery services deliver authentic street food, that by no means could be made by home cooks.


“Street Food Karavan Budapest” by Jorge Franganillo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

One of the most unprecedented consequences of forced lockdowns this year is that the fine dining restaurants of Budapest, Hungary, might disappear en masse because of lockdown protocols but the small eateries may end up staying afloat and even reach new audiences. In some small neighborhoods, the eateries are cooking food and distributing them among the homes. There is food, wine, the authentic taste of Hungarian meals all made to order. Small eateries are buying fresh produce, cooking the meals right then and delivering it within their own circuit. Even though this model is not widely followed throughout, it is slowly gaining pace.


“Stockholm, September 20, 2014” by Ulf Bodin is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Finally, we have Sweden. It is no secret that a country like Sweden has a population less dependent on street food culture than the other countries on this list but they are slowly building their street food networks to keep the economy afloat. It is now safest to opt for street food because the food is cooked in socially distanced open air units or gazebos. Fine dining restaurants like Lux Day By Day are opening drive-thrus, hosting pop up sales, delivering food by bikes and cars and the Swedes also seem to enjoy this break from proper fine dining experiences.

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