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Asia’s Street Food Scene Is Changing Amid Pandemic, Report Details

Plus, KFC’s new game console, and other news to start the day

Street stall selling food in night market.
Taipei’s Shilin Night Market in March 2019.
Photo: Uskarp/Shutterstock

How COVID-19 and pre-existing trends have impacted Asia’s street food

Faced with the realities of gentrification, government intervention and regulation, aging vendor populations, and — this year — the coronavirus pandemic, major street food scenes across Asia are changing, journalist Clarissa Wei details in a new report for CNN.

In Taiwan, famous night markets like Taipei’s Shilin Night Market have suffered from a huge drop in foot traffic, thanks to an overreliance on international tourists who aren’t coming in the middle of a pandemic. But even before COVID-19, Wei reports, many of these tourist-attraction night markets were on the decline, with an increasing sense of homogeneity and an inability to adapt and evolve like more local-focused markets, such as the Ningxia Night Market, have.

What’s happening in Taipei’s night markets speaks to a larger struggle unfolding in other cities, from Tokyo to Bangkok: the tension between setting higher hygiene and construction standards, competing with global chains and cuisines, and preserving the “cultural importance of street food — all while containing its inherent chaos,” writes Wei.

One notable outlier is Singapore’s hawker centers, which have maintained cultural and culinary significance while being contained within a controlled space, complete with all the workings and regulations of restaurant kitchens.

But despite all these complications, along with a lack of continuity from older vendors to younger generations, there are also positive changes, whether that’s mobile payment innovations or attempting to institutionalize and teach the craft of street food. Wei concludes: “‘[W]hile street food may be transforming, it likely won’t go away anytime soon.”

And in other news…

  • President Trump took issue with the $900 billion stimulus package, calling for larger stimulus checks and more help for restaurants, among other things. [WSJ]
  • Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are partnering with World Central Kitchen to create new relief service centers. [Bloomberg]
  • The FDA has issued a warning to Whole Foods for inconsistently listing allergens on food labels, leading to more than 30 recalls in the last year. [Reuters]
  • McDonald’s vows to improve communication with its franchisees. [Restaurant Business]
  • Chipotle’s rat problems are both labor problems and health safety problems. [Jacobin Mag]
  • KFC launched a game console with a built-in “chicken chamber” designed to keep chicken hot. Sure! [CNN]
  • Recall alert: Lean Cuisine’s baked chicken frozen dinner. [Consumer Reports]
  • Thank the Lorde the world’s preeminent onion ring reviewer has returned:

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