The death of 21 year old Sachin Roy Mathew due to food poisoning has led to a state wide crack down on hotels, restaurants and thattukadas functioning in unhygienic conditions. Dozens have been asked to shut down and hundreds have been served notices to improve their working conditions.
Such instances have happened before when numerous hotels were asked to shut down owing to the insanitary conditions in which they were functioning. These hotels are still functioning, and without much improvement to their standards.
“What will we do if they come back to us after a few weeks having obtained a clearance certificate from the concerned department?” asks Happy Kumar, Deputy Mayor, Trivandrum Corporation.
The restaurant, from which Sachin Roy Mathews had bought those three fatal shawarmas that he ate on his way to Bangalore, did business worth around one and a half lakh on a daily basis till it was closed down for serving faulty food. And this restaurant’s license had expired one and a half years ago.
The restaurants that are caught working in sub-standard conditions rarely have their license cancelled or are asked to shut down permanently.
“In the raids that we conducted over the past 24 hours, even the food served from the kitchens of Taj Vivanta failed to meet the specified conditions. If we were to shut down the eateries that are functioning beneath the set criteria, then we would be forced to shut down almost all the restaurants and thattukadas in Trivandrum. The number of people who will have their livelihood deprived would be in thousands,” the Deputy Mayor points out.
The norm that is usually followed is to conduct unexpected food and quality inspections regularly and keep the restaurants and thattukadas working with basic requirements. While the fact that the livelihood of thousands is at stake stops the authorities from taking the final step - the tens of thousands who depend on these hotels, restaurants and thattukadas is a factor preventing them from imposing that finality.
Trivandrum has a high number of way side thattukadas open in almost every major street and junction in the city. Business is always brisk in these thattukadas once the sun goes down. The unbridled rise in the number of eateries in Trivandrum, as it did in the entire state, has led to an enormous increase in meat consumption, especially chicken, among the population, during recent years.
“The meat has to be bought from outside the borders,” says Pushpan who owns two eateries in the city. “There are lots of middlemen involved in the process of collecting and delivering chicken to the various hotels in the city. The hens are bred in farms where they are injected with hormones for quicker and larger growth. And many of these hens would be already dead by the time they reach the restaurant kitchen. For the middleman, the profit in the sale of one hen might be five rupees, but if it is not sold, the loss may run to hundreds of rupees. So, he does everything he can to make sure that all the hens are accounted for, dead or alive.”
The preparation of shawarma, an Arabian dish, involves stacking up a cone shaped mix of meat and fat layers and roasting it slowly in the flame. The roasted outsides are sliced off and rolled in 'khuboos' making the meat, the core ingredient of a shawarma. Restaurants usually save the left over cone of the shawarma-mix in freezers to be used the next day.
This means that the meat, which already carries the probability of having been dead before reaching the restaurant, could also have been stored for a period in excess of twenty four hours before being served to you half-cooked.
“The food habits of today's youth have changed a lot and for the worse,” opines Sherin Bala, a retired Government employee. “They have become heavily dependent on hotels for daily food. I bet that if the same food was made at home, properly cleaned and cooked, the way it used to be, the ill effects would remain minimum.”
Traditionally, rice, fish and vegetables used to be the staple diet of an average Malayali. But his global forays have brought home a wide array of delicacies from around the world, especially from the Arab countries, Europe and America. 80% of the population is non-vegetarian and meat is threatening to show up even in the traditional Onam sadya. The changing food habits of Malayalis too have contributed majorly to the present situation.
According to the Deputy Mayor, the City Corporation will, from now on, be stricter about the restaurants following the basic regulations and ensure that the food served to the public is of good quality and taste.
As for the regulars who eat out, a treat still calls for a Shawarma or a Shawai Chicken, and Malayalis have no dearth of reasons to celebrate...
Image Courtesy: lovehateottawa.blogspot.com, mysingaporekitchen.blogspot.com