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Stall owners cry foul as Dilli Ke Pakwaan food festival ends
As the Dilli Ke Pakwaan Festival, which was organized from February 8 to 14 at Baba Kharak Singh Marg near Connaught Place, New Delhi, comes to a close today, many stall owners have complained that owing to very high rent - they were forced to charge steep prices to recover costs. While their problems were compounded after the local police took bribes from them to allow them to operate, food-lovers complained that street food was not being sold at street-level prices.

The festival organized by Delhi Tourism featured food stalls offering traditional street foods of Delhi and also cultural activities. While thousands of locals and foreign tourists gorged on sweets and savories, many stall owners had sharp words for the organizers. "I am charging you Rs 150 for two pieces of shammi kebab because I am paying a daily rent of Rs. 12,000. There are others who are paying higher. This is very high for us. Not only this, we have had to give money to policemen so that there is no trouble for us - that's what the police told us. I don't feel nice after putting up the stall. I feel cheated," Imtiaz, the owner of stall no 150, Khan Chicken Point, told this citizen journalist.

But weren't the stall owners told about the financial details before participating in the Dilli Ke Pakwaan Festival? "Of course, we knew. But we also knew that we would face problems - so you will find all of us have high MRPs on our printed ticket dockets from the first day of the festival," said Imtiaz.

Due to this corrupted environment, the quality and motivation of food and staff were not upto the mark. Despite the festival being a major undertaking by Delhi Tourism, the street food on offer left much to be desired in terms of preparation, quality and portion-size. Considering that the Delhi government and its tourism department has a major stop for its Dilli Dekho Dil Se tourist bus service right on Baba Kharak Singh marg adjoining the venue of the Dilli Ke Pakwaan Festival, and is a major vantage point for tourists - the festival this year was a bit of a disappointment in terms of value for money.

"For foodies and tourists we will gladly sell at more affordable costs. Expensive street food does not make sense. But the people who organize this food festival will have to ensure that participation fee is less prohibitive. The administration must also keep corrupt policemen away from us. If what took place this year is the same the next year, prices will further escalate," said Raju, an owner of a stall, selling iconic Rajasthani dishes of daal, bhaati and chuurma, and several types of kachoris.

Due to the 'exorbitant' rent and 'overheads,' many stall owners were seen calling out to people to taste their dishes - much like the pushy street-salesmen of Janpath. Small plates of biryani were being sold at Rs. 200, a single kachori at Rs. 60, and chole bhature at Rs 120 per plate. Though people vented their disappointment with the higher cost of street food - 3-4 times their usual cost in Delhi's popular street-food hubs - they dug in, as there was a lot of variety in the festival.

As expected, kebabs, biryani, aloo tikki, chaat, chillas, and chicken korma were hot-selling dishes at the festival. There were many takers for moong daal pizza and jhaalmurhi. Thronged by the young, the food festival was visited by people from all age-groups - with women almost outnumbering men.

This year, the festival had a special attraction - the Khao Gali - featuring street food vendors associated with the National Association of Street Vendors of India (NASVI), which played a key role in the success of the Street Food Festival organized by NASVI in Delhi from December 14-16, 2012. Last year, the Dilli Ke Pakwaan Festival was held from December 24-31 at the same venue.

Indian and Delhi's street food is popular across the world and is eaten widely across the country. But it is not marketed well within India and in other nations. Indian street food dishes don't have the same popular brand recall and demand among foreigners as compared to the same dishes from Thailand, China, Korea, Malaysia ad Vietnam, and even the US. But it's a curious trend - give European and Americans a choice at an event among major cuisines that includes Indian starter, entree, main course,  and desert offerings - they will polish every last morsel of all Indian dishes. The same people, though, will shy away from replicating the recipes at home.

"Foreigners love our street food. They look at it and start salivating. But there are many dishes that are too wet, spicy, and esoteric for their taste. Foreigners find eating Delhi's food items such as chaat, chole bhature, jalebi and kachori difficult to eat with hands. They find it tasty but I don't find foreigners interested in getting to know how to make them at home - so how will they become as popular as chowmein, dim sums, pizza cuts and hot dogs?" observed the owner of a chaat and chilla joint.

A rotund man, obviously fond of food, was seen hopping, skipping and jumping from one stall to another - in no mind to miss any food item the food festival had on offer. For the gourmand and the street-wise picky food aficionado, the Dilli Ke Pakwaan food festival was an occasion to revel in the immense depth of taste and texture of Delhi's street food, and this they did with gusto.

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