In October Word reported on the previous month’s opening of Food Street on Nguyen Van Chiem Street in District 1, right behind Diamond Plaza shopping centre. Depending on your perspective, its inauguration was one of the few positive public relations stories to come out of the footpath clearing campaign/controversy that lit up social media back in February.
At the time, it was reported that an estimated 500 businesses were affected by the purging of the paths, many of them street food vendors who were moved on. In some cases they were left with hefty “fines” to pay for the recovery of their belongings after they were scooped up in a series of aggressive street games of cat and mouse.
As a way of allowing vendors to continue selling (and in theory retain Vietnam’s famous street food culture), special areas were designated for street stalls which could be used by vendors, providing they had permits.
Proponents of Food Street say that vendors are required to show prices and follow appropriate food hygiene practices learnt as part of food safety courses during the permitting process. They also say that regular inspections by city officials ensuring food hygiene standards are upheld can only be a good thing given the concern with “dirty food” allegedly being served across the city. The vendors are said to be happy as well, as all of the equipment, including tents and tables and chairs, has been provided by the government.
Detractors of the initiative have, however, cited the location as being a significant factor in the Food Street’s slightly disappointing popularity; it’s obscured by Diamond Plaza shopping centre and out of view for tourists visiting Saigon landmarks such as Notre Dame Palace, the GPO and the Reunification Palace. The opening times of 6am to 9am, and 11am to 2pm have also raised eyebrows when it’s generally accepted that Saigon’s street food culture is at its most vibrant at night.
As Word reported in October, city planners in Saigon have long held an envious gaze on Singapore, a city famous for its food courts and zeal for public order. While the government’s support for street food vendors is admirable, it will be the people voting with their feet that determines Food Street’s success or failure. Watch this space.
PHOTO BY OLGA ROZENBAJGIER
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