Taking a bite off sizzling street cuisine

Rebecca Kabaya
Of all the food trends to have emerged over the past decade, arguably none can boast having far-reaching influence than street car-boot food. Whether it’s burgers, sadza or rice and drinks, street cuisine has bitten a sizeable chunk into the overall food industry.

In most cities one can’t move for street food markets, actually they cannot barely move in them either. According to recent reports, the value of local car-boot food markets stands high.

The market escalated between 2017 and 2018.

This is because of the unending waves of price hikes in the formal food outlets and restaurants. Enterprising people have used this as an opportunity to venture into selling food on streets.

A remarkable number of people eat at a street food market at least once a month, not to mention the countless stalls and shacks across the country offering food on the go.

This concept is believed to have originated from the United States, where food trucks hawk the best tacos one can ever find, and more memorable than from most restaurants. Asia is also renowned for its street food, whether makeshift roadside stalls or heaving markets.

In Zimbabwe, it seems people are catching up with the idea. Of course, the concept is nothing new in this country.

Shawamma, once known as “poor man’s food”, has been sold by street vendors for a while, but it is now being served at all the big restaurants and food outlets in the country (most people wouldn’t have had a kitchen).

Rice and chips and, more recently, burgers and hotdogs, are commonly eaten on the go.

Nevertheless, the scene has changed beyond recognition over the past 10 years, and there are several theories as to why.

Travel and immigration have led to increased interest in global cuisines.

Soaring rentals and business rates are hitting bricks and mortar establishments.

Perhaps most significantly, social media has allowed dishes to spread like wildfire in public consciousness, leading people to want to try selling street food as an alternative.

In an interview Raina Chikeyi, a businesswoman and one of the people who sell food on streets using her car, said street food has helped propel the industry into a multi-million-dollar business.

She said there are so many reasons why people now opt to buy food on the streets.

“Some of the reasons why people are in love with car-boot food being sold on streets are the value, speed of service, variety, a proximity to cooking, an element of theatre and convenience that we offer to our customers.

She said among street food lovers, diversity and authenticity are often cited as big draws.

“I have realised that street food transforms dingy covered market areas all across Zimbabwe, and other cities and brings together people of different cultures. I think it’s beautiful.

“I love how my customers can sample all sorts of things in a snack-type way without the formality of sitting down, ordering and waiting,” she said.

Chikeyi said her job is mobile.

Sometimes she drives to the CBD, or goes to Government departments, like the Registrar-General’s, where birth certificates and passports are made, to sell food to a variety of people, including foreigners.

“Makombe (Building) is where l usually prefer to go and sell food packed in warmers, because it’s a busy place, where people spend hours standing in long queues applying for passports and birth certificates.

“When they leave the place most of them will be extremely exhausted, thirsty and hungry.

“That’s where l come in to serve them with white plastic chairs to sit on, food and refreshments.

“I have managed to employ other people to help me, because my customers are multiplying every day.

“The higher the demand means the supply should increase as well,” she said.

Younger generations now prefer informal dining to high-street restaurants for a first date, attracted by the more relaxed, casual atmosphere.

Fiona Thondlana, a fan of street food, said the food is cheaper, and it is cooked in a proper way, since the people are still looking for more customers, hence, their public relations skills are polished.

“I’ve always been drawn to food sold on the street. Fish and chips are my favourites on a hot summer day.

“I am enthralled by the vendors’ capacity to make delicious fried food out of almost anything, flogging it in vibrant markets in every neighbourhood.

“At lakesides, large public gatherings, I wait to pick up the scent of some entrepreneurial soul.

“Meat and a grill of chicken heart skewers and corn are the best. They are almost everywhere, it makes life easier for people like us,” she said.

However, Thondlana said, others worry about sustainability.

“People think that street food can be wasteful, in terms of disposable cutlery and packaging.

“The problem is that street food is generally a spontaneous decision, so people won’t necessarily come equipped with their own bowls and forks,” she said.

When something becomes popular and mainstream, even if diluted or sterile these street food sellers keep pushing to come up with new stuff.

This is the main reason why a number of them end up owning their own restaurants or supermarkets. They use this opportunity to grow their customer bases, and popularity so that when they decide to own formal restaurants it will be smooth.

Their success plunged street food firmly into the mainstream.

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