Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Shanghai Street Food to Take a Bureaucratic Hit

I spend a month in Shanghai every year or two, and one big reason is street food.  Wandering far-flung neighborhoods (made ever easier by Shanghai's rapidly growing Metro system) in search of a great bowl of noodles, serving of deep fried "stinky" tofu or skewer of spicy grilled lamb kabobs fills many of my days. The "ad hoc" nature of street food clusters -- chased from one neighborhood by development, only to re-emerge elsewhere -- makes the hunt all the more fun.  I was distressed, therefore, to read this article recently in Shanghai Daily:

 GRABBING a street-food breakfast on the way to work could soon become a thing of the past for Shanghai residents, as the unlicensed vendors will be banned starting September 1, when the Shanghai Food Safety Regulation takes effect. All food sellers will be required to have a license, and while current street vendors can apply for licenses, they must operate their businesses only at designated spots and during certain times.

"We've already set aside designated areas and periods for street vendors, outside of which street food selling are prohibited," said Yan Zuqiang, director of the Shanghai Food Safety Committee.

All vendors must register at their local government or neighborhood committee and apply for a license. Urban management officers will watch for illegal vendors, who will face fines of 500 yuan (US$77.5) if in violation, Yan said.

 I'm really not that put out by the licensing part -- just a matter of paying somebody some fees, says my wife; it's the "designated areas and periods" that bothers me.  Historically, Shanghai's street food venues have been highly decentralized, woven into the fabric of neighborhoods.  Ghettoizing them into "hawker centers" or other predictable locations will take the fun out of discovery.

Here are some random pictures of street foods and vendors taken over the past five years.

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