Street Foods: Urban Food and Employment in Developing Countries

By Irene Tinker | Go to book overview

Introduction

Street foods are sold in almost every country in the world; they are so familiar that there is a tendency to look past the vendors without registering their existence, unless of course you are hungry. Then you see vendors selling foods for quick meals or snacks from daybreak until night. In Senegal, women sit on the ground outside the market place to sell monie, porridge made from millet, from large calabashes. In Peru, fried fish is a cheap and satisfying meal; women cook it before the customer so it is crisp and fresh. Men push carts to major intersections and sell kebabs of different types with different spices in different countries: in Indonesia, the small chunks of meat or chicken or rows of shrimp are served with peppery peanut sauce and called sate; meat chunks, usually beef, are larger in Senegal; ground lamb is encased in dough for samosas served in Bangladesh. Fried bean curd is a favorite lunch food for schoolchildren in Indonesia; flatbread sandwiches of foul and tamia, both made from dried beans, are preferred in Egypt. Soup meals are ubiquitous throughout Southeast Asia: the stock is kept hot, with noodles and meat added to order. Soup is really a thick sauce served over farina or corn pudding in Nigeria; it is sold from gaily painted roadside stalls called buka that provide shaded tables for customers.

Looking at this entrepreneurial activity through a development lens, I wondered: Do the women and men selling the foods make a good living? Why do women dominate the trade in Nigeria or Thailand, but hardly a woman can be seen selling food in Bangladesh? Why, if street food is so popular, do many governments embark on street cleaning exercises, destroying stalls and confiscating supplies?

These questions eventually led to a series of comparable studies in seven provincial towns in Asia and Africa, which form Part I of this book. The studies were a means to the objective of improving the income of the vendors or the safety of the food they sold. They were designed and carried out by the Equity Policy Center (EPOC), a small think tank in Washington, D.C., which I founded in 1978 to document the differential impact of development on women and to design interventions that might assist women to attain greater equity with men.

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