With the minimum temperature plummeting to 3.7 degrees Celsius, Delhi woke up to its coldest day of the season on Sunday. And it served as the perfect excuse to gorge on some hot gajar and moong dal halwa, steaming kesar and dry fruit milk and kahwa, crispy jalebis with fresh rabri and sizzling ghee-dripping littis with chokha, as Delhiites descended on the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in large numbers to attend the National Street Food Festival.
Organised by the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), the three-day festival, which was in its seventh year, got over on Sunday and had more than 150 stalls from all over the country with 25 states participating. Entry was by ticket and there were separate counters for food coupons.
Crowds could be seen at every counter, with the most at the ones selling the coupons.
The chaat counters (Delhi and Gujarat) were expectedly most crowded, but the stalls selling kababs, biryani and other non-veg items were not far behind. People queued up and were ready for long waiting time to partake litti-chokha and egg-parathas too.
Be it Roti Taash Kebab from Bihar, Paddu from Karnataka, Fish Pakoras from Bengal, Mutton Kassa from Odisha, Tangy Fish Curry from Assam, or Keema Mutton from Andhra — foodies tried out everything, experimenting with new tastes from other states. There were stalls from Telangana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Goa, Maharashtra and Haryana, too.
Among the special desserts were Chandni Chowk’s Roller Fruit Ice-cream, Baal Mithai from Varanasi, Qurbani ka Meetha from Telangana, Gulati Kheer from Lucknow and Sita Bhog from West Bengal.
At the busy litti-chokha counter, the vendors from Patna were finding it difficult to manage the crowd. Apart from regular littis, there was a special ‘green litti’ made of palak (spinach), methi (fenugreek) and other leafy vegetables. The calorie-conscious jumped at the option, though were taken aback when the dish was served — the littis had been dipped in melted ghee. “Bihar ka speciality hai, aaram se khaiye (It’s a Bihar speaciality, relish it),” vendor Rakesh Tripathi assured them.
The queues were equally long at the Makke ki Roti-Sarso ka Saag (Chandigarh) and Lachcha Paratha-Mutton Achari (Lucknow) counters.
Towards late evening, when the guests were starting to leave, they were faced with a unique problem. Their tummies were full and most options exhausted, but there were still many coupons left unused. Unlike at food courts in malls, there was no option for refund. It was, hence, time to showcase some PR skills. Looking to selling off their unused stock, they approached the people still queuing up at the coupon counters, and the buyers happily obliged.
Then, there were another set of people who had exhausted most of their coupons, left with the few that were not sufficient to buy a dish. While most stalls refused to accept cash, some agreed. Those manning the Gujarat stall selling Fafda-Gathiya were quite accommodating. Not only did they agree to accept the balance in cash, but were also willing to adjust the quantity of the food according to the coupons.
Giving the patrons constant company were stand-up comedians performing at a makeshift stage erected in the middle of the ground. There were game shows too with members from the audience being given a chance to participate and win.
Among the high-profile patrons Sunday was Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi who paid a visit in the afternoon and tasted the fares.
Before the festival began, NASVI had organised a mass training programme on food safety and hygiene for all 500 participating roadside chefs. Dr Mrinalini Darswal, Food Safety Commissioner, Government of Delhi, inaugurated the training programme. She called for multi-sectoral synergy to achieve results in the areas of food safety, hygiene and health. She said the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, Delhi, was planning to distribute a kit for street food vendors at the time of registration in the coming days.
To encourage the cooks, celebrity chef Sanjeev Kapoor too joined them on the first day, calling the dishes made by them “the cultural representations of the regions from where they come”.