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This week has not been kind to the food and beverage world. One image that has gone viral on social media showed a pre-teen boy sitting on a block of ice. Don’t find that gross? Well, the boy was an assistant in a chuski stall and he wasn’t wearing any clothes apart from a short tee. What was a naked boy doing on a block of factory-made ice that very likely would be used to make chuskis? In fact, there were so many lapses in that single image taken with a not very good cell-phone camera, that social media – and lovers of street-food – were agog all through the week. It was not only that the boy’s nether regions were in direct contact with an ingredient that was going to be used, without cooking/heating, in a water-ice, but the bottom of the block of ice was directly on the pavement. Now, Delhi is famous for many things, but clean roads are not one of them. The question everybody was asking was: which chuski-seller in his right mind would place a block of ice on a pavement and then allow a seriously underage assistant to use it as a seat? Further, which assistant reports to work without trousers?
While the offending image was still in the maelstrom of public outrage, there is now the dismaying news that Delhiites ingest faecal matter when they partake of chaat, momos and samosas. On one hand, it disturbs one’s morning cup of tea to read such disquieting news. One the other, is it really so surprising? No chaat-wala anywhere in the city has access to a running supply of drinking water or other civic facilities. Every Delhiite has seen the sight of dozens of steel and plastic plates washed near an open drain so often as to have become inured to it.
As for clean, hygienic alternatives to chaat, does such a thing really exist? Those who make and sell the accoutrements of chaat (kamrak ki chutney, pani for gol gappas, etc.) have a certain amount of expertise. Transporting them to stainless steel kitchens as Haldirams has done, may not do any favours for chaat which rightfully has its place at the top of Indian vegetarian cuisine. But leaving them out on the streets is doing our collective digestive tracts a grave disservice.