Vietnam’s obsession with lumping similar businesses together in the same street, a trend that comes from the establishment of the guilds of yesteryear in Hanoi’s Old Quarter, has now manifested itself in the name of a street dedicated to street food.
Officially opening on Aug. 28, Nguyen Van Chiem is the first so-called designated ’food street’ in Vietnam’s largest metropolis, Ho Chi Minh City. Twenty food stalls have been created along the thoroughfare, with 40 businesses taking turns to run them in two shifts; 6am to 9am in the morning, and 11am to 1pm in the afternoon.
Reclaim the Streets
The inauguration of this street comes as part of District 1 authorities’ determination to ‘reclaim the streets’ from hawkers, motorbike drivers and any other vendors whose business leaks out onto the sidewalk.
With the Ho Chi Minh City metro expected to be completed over the next two years, it’s vital that the central areas of the city are pedestrian-friendly. This will make metro travel viable in a city that prefers to use personal transport, xe oms or taxis. The question is how this is achieved.
The new ‘food street’ is one such scheme to get food vendors, who previously occupied the sidewalks across District 1, quite literally off the streets.
According to local newspaper, Tuoi Tre
, the District 1 administration believes the new ‘food street’ will not only contribute to the ‘sidewalk clearing’ campaign, but also create a new destination for locals and tourists in the city centre.
Many of the vendors are low-income earners, and have been waived fees for their booths. However, in a move that suggests Singapore-like uniformity, they have been required to wear uniforms featuring name tags and will receive regular health inspections. The ingredients for their food will also be carefully regulated.
Not necessarily a bad thing.
A Mixed Response
The ‘food street’, however, has so far received a mixed response.
Some members of the general public like the idea, while according to Tuoi Tre, critics say the windows are too short, and that the street should remain open in the evening to attract more visitors.
Others say that the true essence of street food will be lost if visitors are unable to experience sitting on the side of the street to eat local food.
Nguyen Van Chiem is also located in one of the most expensive areas of town, right behind Diamond Plaza and close to Turtle Lake Circle. How local businesses who try to attract a more affluent clientele will feel about a street dedicated to street food in their midst is yet to be seen.