Oh, street food ven­dors where art thou?

China Daily (Latin America Weekly) - - Page Two - Con­tact the writer at david@chi­nadaily.com.cn

I’m los­ing weight. I have to be care­ful when I walk down the street to avoid fall­ing through cracks in the side­walk.

I’d like to at­tribute my shrink­age to some kind of fit­ness or diet but the sim­ple truth is that I’m run­ning out of places to eat. Every time I head out into my dis­trict of Bei­jing, it seems a place where I used to find food has dis­ap­peared.

Back in the good old days — it must have been at least three months ago — I used to love buy­ing hot chicken sand­wiches from a tiny ven­dor’s shop in a nearby al­ley. They con­sisted of red roasted chicken, an omelet, some salad and hot sauce, all on a de­li­cious hand­made bun. OK, it wasn’t prob­a­bly health food, and the ven­dor’s premises were prim­i­tive, but to me and many other cus­tomers it was a treat for just 5 yuan (78 US cents). The lady who made them got to know me and started pre­par­ing my sand­wich as soon as she saw me.

Then one day I went to get one of the sand­wiches for lunch and the shop’s shut­ters were down. There was a no­tice in Chi­nese pasted on them and the ven­dor’s cook­ing equip­ment was piled out­side. The shop never opened again.

There was an­other place fur­ther down the al­ley that sold sim­i­lar sand­wiches. I didn’t like them as much — I wasn’t keen on the sesame buns they used — but any port in a storm. I be­came a reg­u­lar cus­tomer, got to like their sand­wiches and the own­ers also got to know me, pre­par­ing my or­der with­out need­ing to ask.

Then, a few weeks ago, the same thing hap­pened to them. They dis­ap­peared, never to re­turn. I no­ticed a once-busy ke­bab place nearby had also dis­ap­peared.

Ah well, maybe it was sign from above that I should be eat­ing more healthily. From now on it would be fruit for lunch ... but wait a minute — the fruit seller has gone as well!

Some new shops now opened in the al­ley. There are a cou­ple of clin­i­cally mod­ern bak­eries sell­ing bland-look­ing cakes and bis­cuits. They don’t look to be too pop­u­lar. In fact, the al­ley seems to be a lot less busy these days than when the street food ven­dors were there.

Be­cause the truth is, peo­ple love street food. The estab­lish­ments that serve it might not have the high­est stan­dards of hy­giene but these ven­dors are a valu­able part of the char­ac­ter of Bei­jing — an in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage. And it’s not just the lo­cals who miss these places. When vis­i­tors travel to China they don’t want to get off the plane and find out they’re in a sim­i­lar place to the one where they boarded. They want it to be Chi­nese — and an im­por­tant part of that is street food.

I’m told that the Chi­nese au­thor­i­ties want the food sec­tor to clean up its act and adopt the lat­est mod­ern stan­dards. That’s all very well but when you take dras­tic mea­sures like clos­ing down ven­dors you have to be care­ful not to throw the baby out with the bath wa­ter.

China is proud of its her­itage and food plays a ma­jor role in the Chi­nese im­age. For­get the crummy Western fran­chises who seem to be creep­ing onto every street cor­ner. They are the in­fe­ri­ors of the tra­di­tional ven­dors. Let’s have food with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics — and plenty of it.

JIGME DORJE / XINHUA

Three mon­keys see a win­dow of op­por­tu­nity to get food from the oc­cu­pants of a car in Gy­atsa, a county in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion, that is about 300 kilo­me­ters from Lhasa.

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