Street food cooks in Southeast Asia have turned to social networks or community solutions to continue to deliver their specialties and survive confinement.
In the region, the tastiest dishes – sticky rice with mango, seafood noodles or chicken satay kebabs – are often prepared in micro-kitchens and sold in stands in front of which customers must wait standing, sometimes a long time for the most popular.
But the coronavirus pandemic brought a brutal halt to these small businesses when their customers found themselves confined to their homes. In order not to stay closed for too long and risk having to close the door, they looked for new solutions to deliver their customers.
And even if some countries begin to break out of confinement, the new rules of physical distance should not allow a rapid return of customers to places that were often crowded.
In Singapore, the “hawker centers”, these open-air centers that bring together dozens of stands and where you can swallow soup quickly or dine on refined dishes with friends, have been deserted since it is forbidden to eat outside.
A cook from one of these centers has created a Facebook group to offer his dishes and is helping his less tech-savvy colleagues to offer their cuisine online.
Melvin Chew, 42, who prepares rice noodles and braised duck, says the group now has 250,000 members, traders and customers alike.
“We had a lot of support to help share (this Facebook page) and it’s indicative of the passion and love that Singaporeans have for this street food,” he said.
In the Thai capital Bangkok, a small hotel has turned into a distribution center to help food stalls stay afloat.
The Once Again Hostel has launched a delivery service that connects sellers to customers in the neighborhood via LINE messaging, with a 15% commission, much lower than existing online services.
When a customer places an order, food is dropped off at this hotel and motorcycle couriers deliver it. Specialties such as pad thai and roast pork noodles are among the most requested.
In some places, the community subscribes for street vendors, such as in Rangoon, the largest city in Burma, with a crowd-funding campaign.
Despite the restrictions, street vendors continued to sell their kitchens where and when they could to survive, despite the risks and police repression.
“We want to make sure that street vendors have the choice of staying at home,” said Emilie Roell, a member of the Doh Eain group that is behind this initiative.
burs-cla / sr / rbu / lgo / etr