Food Safety Regulations and Street Food Culture Collide in Southeast Asian Cities

Street food is a staple of Southeast Asian culture and cuisine, but recently it has been threatened by heightened efforts to enforce food safety regulations. In cities across Vietnam, Thailand, and Indonesia, street vending has experienced a steep decline in the past few months at the hands of public health and safety campaigns. According to Nguyen Thu Hong, a street food vendor in Hanoi, police raids have increased sharply since March of this year; police have fined Nguyen $9 (equivalent to two days’ earnings) on multiple occasions for selling noodles with tofu and shrimp without proper licensing.

A busy street lined with street food vendors in Hanoi.  Courtesy: Foodaholix

A busy street lined with street food vendors in Hanoi.  Courtesy: Foodaholix

The recent campaigns have drawn comparisons to the 1960s campaign in Singapore, which moved all street vendors into more sanitary food courts and hawker centers by offering the vendors financial incentives. The Singapore model is the best in Asia at addressing food safety issues, said Peter Sousa Hoejskov, food safety expert with the World Health Organization. However, several experts say today’s campaigns are more haphazard in nature, seem to have no end goal, and unfairly target the poor. Locals and gourmands lament the potential loss of an important piece of urban Southeast culture in the name of food safety.  Read more here.