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Saigon's much-anticipated first street food zone opens for business

By Duy Tran   August 28, 2017 | 03:53 pm GMT+7

Peace at last for some vendors who will no longer have to play cat and mouse with officers enforcing the city's sidewalk campaign.

Ho Chi Minh City opened its first street food zone in District 1 on Monday as part of the district’s acclaimed efforts to clean up its sidewalks.

If you hadn't already heard, the campaign is taking a zero-tolerance approach to remove cars, bikes, vendors and structures that invade the sidewalks and rob pedestrians of their space.

The first zone on Nguyen Van Chiem Street has been designated for low-income vendors who will not have to pay a fee to sell their goods in the zone.

Each of the 20 stalls takes up just a third of the sidewalk, giving pedestrians enough room to move around freely.

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The first street food zone on Nguyen Van Chiem Street, District 1. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen

Wearing a uniform provided by district authorities, a vendor named Phuong said she used to sell food in an alley near her home but decided to apply for a license to operate in the new zone as soon as she heard about it.

"My family and I received food safety training a couple of days ago. We hope we will earn more money than before here,” she said.

Another vendor told VnExpress that she can run her business "in peace" now because she no longer has to watch out for officers and be ready to make a run for it at any moment as before.

Vu Ngoc Duong, who works near the zone, said she usually buys street food for breakfast but is always worried about the quality.

“Now the authorities have rolled up their sleeves to manage this area, I feel more secure about the food.”

The street food zone stretches 40 meters on the sidewalk of Nguyen Van Chiem behind the Notre Dame Cathedral, and is open from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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Selected vendors are allowed to do business in the street food zone free of charge. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen

The city's second street food zone is expected to open at Bach Tung Diep Park near the Reunification Palace in a month.

District 1 authorities started the sidewalk cleanup campaign early in February in a bid to take back the sidewalks for their original purpose and turn the district into a “Little Singapore”.

They have put up barriers and deployed police to stop motorbikes from driving on the sidewalks. They have also been towing vehicles, including government and foreign diplomatic cars, and destroying any invasive constructions that spill out onto the street, some of which belong to five-star hotels.

The project, led by the district’s vice chairman Doan Ngoc Hai, has been widely applauded by locals, but it has also raised concerns for being too extreme. Street vendors across District 1 are possibly the unhappiest and have been seen crying and yelling when police seize their food stands.

The campaign hit a four-month hiatus when Hai mysteriously stepped out of the campaign in April, telling local media that he had to do so as “requested by district leaders”.

With Hai’s hands tied, the mission was passed down to local units, and things returned to the old days before resuming earlier this month.

Upon his return, Hai asked for a “carte blanche to punish anyone that breaks the rules, even officials.”

Video by Duc Huy