When will street food vending develop locally?

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Street food vending is a gateway for a better understanding the people, history and cultures of countries. There are so many great cities for street food around the world and each city has its own culinary style as well as different types of dishes, vendors and foodie trends. This has already become a big business in major cities, but Mongolians are still trying to develop its own street food culture.

First of all, there are very few street food vendors in Mongolia that specialize in traditional food and beverages. 

In 1990, as liberalization began, people started retailing on the streets. In specific, during summertime, individuals and businesses sell skewers, sandwiches, drinks, ice cream, bubble gum or candies. Unfortunately, products that incorporate Mongolian culture with the potential to attract tourists are not often sold on the streets. In particular, the most common traditional street food is just khuushuur. Khuushuurs are strongly associated with Naadam, thus foreign tourists try it the most amid festivities.

In addition to khuushuur, it is important that we develop our unique national food such as dairy products, airag (traditional Mongolian alcoholic drink made from fermented mare’s milk) and borts (dried meat) into street food culture so that we can supply quality and cheap food to the population. This is not only connected to the food supply of the local population but also to the dissemination or promotion of our culture around the world.

On the other hand, there are currently no night markets or street food specialized areas in Ulaanbaatar. But you can find street food during festivals, at food trucks, food halls and pop-up events and inside trendy food quarters. 

In fact, from 2017 to 2020, Seoul Street was transformed into a car-free, night street. Various art performances, dance and song contests and food sales were hosted there. It created an environment that supports self-employed people and businesses, as well as entertains citizens. It should have been expanded but right now, only a few street food vendors are active on Seoul Street.

Then Head of the Ulaanbaatar Tourism Department D.Batsukh explained, “The night street was built to promote tourism. We plan to expand the night street in the future. In addition to tourists, Ulaanbaatar residents and children can relax, watch cultural performances and enjoy delicious food.”

VENDORS NEED TO BE HIGHLY HYGIENIC

Despite the importance of street food vending, there are many underlying problems that cannot be ignored. The present condition in which most of the street food vendors cook and sell their products is unsuitable. In some cases, their venues and workspaces are not clean, lit well enough and vulnerable to sources of contamination. Most of the street food vendors do not practice hygienic methods of covering food and water. Uncovered food are exposed to flies, birds and rodents, which may cause food-borne pathogens. Street food vendors also lack the proper food handling and waste disposal training.

Therefore, locals often “run away” from street foods. However, the number of street food vendors has been growing. For instance, there are various street food vending near the State Department Store, National Garden Park, National Circus, Mongolian State University of Education, 120 Myangat sub-district and along the road of summer camps. During the holidays, restaurants and canteens sell khuushuur and ready-made meals on the streets.

This is because in accordance with Mayor of Ulaanbaatar’s Decree No. A/987 of 2021, which entered into force on January 1, 2022, citizens and business entities are no longer required to obtain any permits or special licenses to conduct 74 types of business activities within the capital. In other words, no documents are required from citizens to carry out 74 types of trade and services activities in Ulaanbaatar. Previously, citizens and business entities engaged in trade, production and services were required to provide seven to 12 types of documents to obtain permits/licenses to operate. This has changed and no documents are required anymore. Documents issued by government organizations will be processed through exchanges of information, support, methodological advice and cooperation between government agencies, without the participation of citizens and business entities.

This is an indispensable regulation to support businesses, but citizens say that the control over the provision of healthy food must not be weakened because of the government’s decision. In particular, Minister of Finance B.Javkhlan informed that the government will pursue a policy of reducing state inspections. In particular, the number of inspections will be reduced by 50 percent.

During the spring session this year, Parliament passed a bill on the suspension of certain types of state supervision and inspection. In accordance with the law, scheduled inspections will not be conducted for three years. It stipulates that unscheduled inspections will be carried out on the basis of petitions, requests, complaints and information from citizens, business entities and organizations, or in the event of a decision of an authorized body. Under the law, organizations are obliged to maintain quality and standards. In the event of damage or accident, organizations will be held accountable, according to the government.

Minister of Justice and Internal Affairs Kh.Nyambaatar explained, “State inspections will be conducted based on citizens’ feedback. However, we need to improve our risk-based monitoring system. There are concerns that the cessation of scheduled inspections could weaken the quality and standards of organizations.”

As food safety is paramount, the establishment of strict standards for not only street food vendors but also other food producers is a step forward in the development of this sector, experts and researchers say. In other words, it is right for the government to allow street food vendors to trade or operate easily and make decisions that do not put pressure on them but experts believe that the government must not neglect certain controls, inspections and advisory measures. 

In connection with this, last June, Mayor of Ulaanbaatar D.Sumiyabazar issued an ordinance to create a favorable environment to do business in the capital. It obliges all levels of the city’s organizations and officials to support citizens, entities and organizations engaged in food trade and service that meet food safety and hygiene standards and requirements on public roads and squares of the capital.

The mayor informed, “It is necessary to create a favorable business environment to revive the economy after the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses contribute to the country’s economy and create jobs. Therefore, we will support businesses in all aspects, especially those who provide products and services that meet hygiene and quality requirements.”

He also met street food vendors within the framework of the ordinance. During the meeting, businesses highlighted that there is a problem with the uncertainty of the location of public areas where street food can be served. They also stressed that creating a favorable legal environment and providing the necessary support is a key requirement to support street food businesses.

The Ulaanbaatar Standards and Inspection Agency proposed to businesses to jointly approve street food standards. In this regard, the city administration clarified what kind of safety measures to be taken and where street food vendors to be able to provide services.

‘IT WILL BE MUCH EASIER WITH MORE STREET FOOD VENDORS’

As mentioned before, there are several challenges to the development of street food in Mongolia, but many young people are joining to develop it.

Initiator of the Food Station Project O.Bilguun said, “Currently, there are more than 600 people who want to join the Street Food Association. We cannot recruit them all. There will be some kind of selection. They must have experience working in this field. People who are able to work consistently in this field will be selected. Therefore, the process of establishing this association and recruiting its members is expected to slow down a bit. Because we have to understand how this business runs and we’re studying how this association can work sustainably and effectively.”

In addition, the self-employed are becoming increasingly interested in street food vending. N.Nyamsuren, a citizen who runs a food station, commented, “The main feature of our service is that we use frozen materials prepared from the factory in front of our customers. The general structure of the food truck is designed for cooking. We use solar energy as well. When cooking, we use a gas grill. For packaging, we use organic containers that are easily absorbed by nature. We do not use plastic containers because they are harmful to human health. The fact that we provide such quality and cheap food to our citizens is an expression of the development of the street food industry in the country. I love working in this field.”

UB resident G.Nomin said, “On the way to work in the morning, I want to grab my breakfast very easily and quickly. It will be much easier for us if there is more street food vending. In general, street food is very nice in the hot summer. It feels so healthy and safe to see them cooking right away.”

STREET FOOD IS DEVELOPING IN RURAL AREAS

Some provinces have started street food vending to support tourism and the local economy.

More specifically, Darkhan-Uul Province’s governor has expressed his support for the creation of street food vending in Darkhan soum to improve the livelihoods of residents and support the activities of households and small and medium businesses. In this regard, street food vending has been organized in eight areas since May 15. Until November 1, 76 citizens and enterprises will operate in the field of trade and food production.

Moreover, Bayankhongor Province has decided to introduce street food services to the local community. It plans to introduce street food services at the Mazaalai Park.

Street food businesses are usually owned and operated by individuals or families but benefits from their trade extend throughout the local economy. Therefore, local authorities also need to pay attention to this issue and create a favorable business environment for individuals and businesses. This will not only contribute to the development of the sector but also help decentralize the capital.

Misheel Lkhasuren

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