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From the small fried fish that were sold on the streets of ancient Greece to the stir-fried noodles of modern day Bangkok, street food has been part of society for millennia. People from all walks of life eat street food and street food vending is found all around the world, but varies greatly between regions and cultures. Nowadays it is become common in Ethiopia, observes Meheret-Selassie Mokonnen.

Etfruit, The Ethiopian Fruit and Vegetables Marketing Share Company, is probably one of the local companies that most Ethiopians are well-acquainted with. Many had shared the mangos, oranges, bananas and other fruits sold in the small Etfruit containers scattered all over Addis Ababa.

With 16 branches across Ethiopia, it was the most prominent fruit and vegetable provider until selling fruits on a wheelbarrow started to become common on the streets of Addis. Even though the street vendors are always getting in trouble with law enforcement officers, they have contributed a lot in terms bringing fruit and vegetable to the doorsteps of urban dwellers.

The street fruit and vegetable market extended to French fries, samosa, doughnut, cookies and other snacks over the past decade. With a growing number of people living in cities and the hectic work hours, many started to consume these relatively less expensive fast foods.

Eating on the streets hasn’t always been “accepted” in Ethiopian customs; however, the modern way of life seems to have transcended the norm. Consequently, especially at nights, the streets of Addis are being flooded with the fast spreading fast foods.

Given most of the vendors lack knowledge of healthy food preparation and the unsanitary streets of Addis, street food has been predestined to being a cause for food-related diseases. Nevertheless, there is a completely different reality regarding street food in other countries. Even in Nairobi, capital of neighboring Kenya, it is common to come across fast foods on the streets, including fried chicken.

Buying foods or drinks from the streets is extolled in other parts of the world as it saves time and one can get fresh products. Trying to transform the street food culture in Ethiopia, some private companies have recently started selling snacks and hot drinks with a better service than what people were used to.

On one of the busiest streets of Addis, Bole Edna mall area, cars and people walking by line up early in the morning. They wait for the arrival of two cars that have the label Bama Coffee written on them.

The founder of Bama coffee, Daniel Tesfaeyesus, and his employees hurriedly cut the fresh home-baked banana cake while serving coffee and macchiato. After a minute or so their customers head to their respective offices with a hot drink in a takeaway cup.

Bama started off by serving coffee and macchiato in meetings and conferences. The founder then decided to start selling drinks and snacks on the streets considering the time constraint many have to deal with especially when it comes to sitting down and dining during rush hours.

“We want people to know it is possible to get snacks and hot drinks within a short period of time. It takes us around thirty seconds to serve everything,” Daniel explains. He wants to change the perception of people when it comes to getting foods or drinks from the streets to be consumed on the way to work.

In this day and age, lots of people work two or three jobs and they prefer anything that is served as quick as possible. In this regards, companies like Bama strive to be the alternative service providers as opposed to cafés and restaurants.

“Besides the quick service, foods and drinks on the streets are inexpensive. For example, we sell all our hot drinks and snacks for 12 birr,” Daniel says. He is not oblivious to the fact that anything consumed from the streets has been considered unhygienic and unhealthy in the past. Many people have been hospitalized as a result of consuming street food.

“It is up to the service providers to make sure everything is clean. From the type of oil we use, to the place we work, store and serve at, we keep everything to the maximum standard,” he elaborates.

Let alone start-up food and drink, vendors on the streets, hotels and restaurants with huge names have been accused of serving contaminated food and operating in hazardous kitchens. In tlight of that, people say that it is up to the government to inspect the street vendors before licensing their companies.

According to Daniel, providing healthy snacks is their priority as they try to keep everything natural. He says they create doughnuts with various flavors and always try to come up with something new. They have a delivery service to offices that are in close proximity to their trucks and they have also started a coffee bar at Morning Star Mall.

“We will have a bigger market once the culture of consuming snacks and drinks from the streets becomes more popular in the Ethiopian,” he states, confirming street vendors are responsible in changing people’s mindset by providing clean products.

Bama has been in business for nine months now and the founder says they have had a good feedback from consumers so far. He also believes street food is an untapped market and companies providing a hygienic service have a chance of being profitable.

Other busy areas such as the road from the National Theater to Leghar and Mercato will be their following target markets.

Conversely, he notes, there are complications when it comes to working on the streets of Addis. “We have a license from the Ministry of Trade. But, we constantly clash with law enforcements since there is no clear demarcation to where we can work,” he explains.

As Daniel explains, street vending has a licensing section; however, selling on streets from vehicles is ambiguous as they can travel from one place to the other. He believes having a clear administrative laws and a common understanding with law enforcers will smoothen their work environment.

According to a research entitled “Hygienic and Sanitary Practices of Street Food Vendors in the City of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia” written by Temesgen Eliku for the Department of Environmental Science, College of Natural and Computational Sciences in Wollega University, the quality of raw materials, food handling and storing activities are major factors that affect the safety of street food.

Bearing in mind the increasing number of street vendors, he recommends they should be cautious when it comes to choosing the environment they work around. In his research, he found out that most of them work in the presence of insects, gaseous pollutants from air, dirt particles and domestic animals.

“Street foods are at high risk of contamination. They are sometimes stored at unsuitable temperatures and sold from vending sites which include kiosks, make-shift accommodation, and push carts as well as other temporary structures,” he points and highlights food handling, storage and serving should be regulated.

He concludes, cities like Addis Ababa that are rapidly growing in size and population and also characterized by “people on the move” make a conducive environment for the street food business, if the vendors provide healthy snacks and drinks.

Lewam Haile, 28, has traveled to various African and European countries and one of the exciting things she mentions is finding inexpensive foods on the streets. She says almost everyone purchases hot drinks from the streets every morning.

She has bought coffee from Bama a few weeks ago and a snack from a truck located around Bole. “I like buying snacks or drinks from the streets mostly because I believe it is a wonderful idea given Addis is a huge city and needs lots of similar services,” she explains.

Like many locals she believes that not all street vendors provide healthy foods and drinks. “Anyone can tell if the vendors are providing clean products or not. However, there are some circumstances that are difficult to tell,” she says.

According to Lewam, the city will require more street food, with the influence of a modern way of living. She says the existence of street vendors will familiarize people with the idea of street consumption. She also hopes to see trucks that move around town selling ice cream, burgers and other fast foods since it could be a promising business as well.

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