As Ethiopia is being rocked by high inflation, the economic nightmare has affected people’s lives in many ways. As such, unaffordable goods and services in the capital are causing a change in lifestyles. A couple years back, buying food from street stands that serve food was frowned upon and was more frequented by daily laborers who work at construction sites or others working on streets—from shoe shiners to fruit vendors. The continuing rise in food prices, however, is driving even those with relatively better earnings to consider street food as an affordable alternative, writes EBR’s Trualem Asmare.
Street food vending is both a breadwinner and service giver to millions around the world—satisfying both pockets and stomachs. In Ethiopia, like in other developing countries, street food vending is one of the means of income generation and is increasingly becoming more common. Large numbers of people are involved in the street food business and it is common to watch street vendors around schools and transport centers where several people congregate.
The practice has numerous advantages for the community and for those engaged in it. Especially now that inflation is devastating Ethiopia, finding something affordable to eat is keeping many awake at night. Dozens of young men and women who work at construction sites alongside asphalt roads eating bread and homemade biscuits for their lunch has become a common scene in the capital. In recent times, sambusas, potato chips, sandwiches, doughnuts, homemade biscuits, and potato sandwiches are increasingly making up a major portion of the diet of many Addis Ababans.
The 23-year-old Dawit Tilahun lives alone in the Yeka District of Addis Ababa. He started working as a street food vendor five years ago in Megenagna and he cooks various easy-to-make foods like potato chips and sandwiches. The vending price of his foods range from ETB10 to 25.
Business was not that good for Dawit until two years ago. People used to think that food served on the street is unhygienic, limiting his clientele to only day laborers and those at the lower end of the income ladder. That has shifted in the last two years, however. Now people from other walks of life visit Dawit’s stand at least twice a day.
“Those who stayed away for alleged hygiene problems visit me now,” Dawit told EBR.
Dawit lives in a rented house for ETB3,000 a month and claims to make ETB1,300 on slow days. If things go his way, his daily income reaches ETB2,000 and even ETB3,000. The location of Dawit’s stand is both a blessing and a curse. Megenagna is one of the most crowded parts of the city with tens of thousands passing through daily. However, law enforcement and other government bodies tighten the rules of streetside vending in such areas. His business is in the grey area of legality.
“I have to run away every time I see them and so my customers cannot find me, thus seriously hurting my income,” he complains.
Temesgen Dagne is married and a father of one. He cooks fast food around Gollagul Tower around Addis Ababa’s Haya Hulet area—nearby Megenagna. He started street food vending in 2020, building a business on which his entire family is dependent upon as his wife doesn’t have a job. From house rent to all consumables for the family of three including his daughter, Temesgen covers the expenses from selling food on the street. He agrees with Dawit on how street food is increasingly being preferred by more and more people compared to just two years ago. He recognizes how the rising cost of living has forced metropolitans to lower their standards and partake on street food.
‘’Nowadays, society’s thinking has completely changed and it has become a common thing to buy food and eat on the street,” Temesgen told EBR.
The inflation-induced changing of lifestyles is confirmed by people using street food, too. Abeba Getahun, a 27-year-old public Worker lives alone in Yeka District of Addis Ababa, paying ETB5,000 for rent. She has been feeling the burn from the rising cost of living. For Abeba and colleagues, any restaurant is now unthinkable, even on payday.
“As cooking after work following the painstaking and tiresome urban transport system is unthinkable, it has been a while since I started using street food,” Abeba told EBR. “The prices are fair, and they taste so good.”
For her, street food used to be less hygienic a few years ago. But now, these vendors are offering an alternative to survive difficult life in the capital.
The history of fast food on the streets can be traced back to the early 20th century when street vendors first started selling hot dogs and popcorn. The popularity of these snacks led to the development of specialized food carts and trucks, which could quickly serve up meals to busy urbanites. In the 1950s, McDonald’s became one of the first major chains to offer fast food on the street with its iconic yellow arches. Since then, street vendors have become an integral part of many cities’ culinary landscape, serving everything from tacos and kebabs to falafel and noodles.
There are many successful street food businesses around the world, but some stand out more than others. In India, for example, there are thousands of dhabas—roadside restaurants—that serve delicious curries and naan bread at very reasonable prices. Thailand, Bangkok is home to some amazing street vendors who sell everything from Pad Thai noodles to chicken satay skewers. And in Mexico City, one can find some incredible taco stands serving up mouth-watering burritos and quesadillas 24 hours a day.
Addis Ababa seems to heading in the direction of these cosmopolitan cities, with the advent of food trucks a case in point. However, the legal limbo in which these establishments are in does not bode well. Only when they can operate in freedom and comfort can these establishments further provide city residents with escape from flaming inflation. EBR
10th Year • Sep 2022 • No. 110