I think of it as the antidote to fast food; it’s the clear alternative to the king, the clown and the colonel. It’s faster, and chances are it’s healthier than something at a traditional fast food restaurant. I would much rather give my money to a neighbor or an individual than to a gigantic corporation that owns half the world. Maybe it’s naïve of me, but I prefer food made by an identifiable human that’s actually cooking
– Chef, author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain
The above quote from Anthony Bourdain is probably the most accurate description of street food I have come across in a long time. It seems today that “street food” is all over the media with TV shows dedicated to the subject and everyone going gaga over the food trucks that are fast becoming the next new food trend. But we mustn’t confuse the line between food trucks that are in the main trendy and innovative recreations of traditional foods and the genuine, food of the people, honest to goodness street foods, the sort of dishes and snacks that have been the staple of the working man the world over. Offering cheap, fast and nutritious dishes that reflect the very fabric of the society they emerged from. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_street_foods
I have listed below a variety of genuine street foods that I have become acquainted with during my culinary wanderings at home and abroad. Enjoy!
Pane ca Meusa – Sicily
This is traditional Sicilian street food at its most basic, a specialty of the city of Palermo. Beef spleen sandwich “Pane ca Meusa”. The origin of this sandwich is said to have its roots in the Jewish community of medieval Palermo. A soft panini stuffed with slices of beef spleen and beef lung. I was lucky enough to taste this delicious sandwich while on a touring holiday of Sicily in the mid 90’s. I had never heard of this delicacy before I stumbled across a street vendor’s cart in the food market of la “Vucciria” in Palermo. Seeing a crowd of people standing around and eating delicious looking sandwiches I was intrigued and wandered over to take a look. I found a very local looking gentleman digging steaming hot slices of offal out of a large cauldron of boiling fat and stuffing them into bread with a sprinkling of course salt and a squeeze of lemon. I just had to try this. The first bite was a winner. A strong offal taste cut by the salt and lemon with the juices soaking into the bread. Absolutely delicious. Another example of how the cheapest cuts of meat are transformed into a gourmet meal of the common people.
Other amazing street eats in Sicily include arancini (rice balls stuffed with meat sauce and cheese), crocche (potato balls), panelle (chick pea fritters) and of course, they do a mean Sicilian pizza.
Street food extraordinaire!
Cornish Pasties – Cornwall
Most people are familiar with some sort of version of this tasty pie but the origin is usually less known. The original pastry was a way for Cornish miner’s wives and mothers to give their men and sons a nourishing and economical meal of meat and potato which was easy to carry down into the mines. These days mining and the brave miners of Cornwall are just subjects of history but the flaky pastry treat lives on as the food most associated with Cornwall, regarded as the national dish accounting for 6% of the Cornish food economy, mainly through tourism.
For me being always fascinated by the history of foods I was only too happy to try an original Cornish pasty in the typical Cornish village of Camelford at a local pasty shop called “Cornish Maids” run by, you guessed it, a bevy of Cornish ladies. I wasn’t disappointed, it was delicious.
Tender beef, potatoes and carrots spiced with plenty of black pepper wrapped in a flaky pastry case. Eaten out of the bag while gazing over the wild and amazing Cornish coast line and ocean…wonderful!
Israeli Street food
Eating or “fressing” in the street in Israel is more than a national pastime it is a way of life.
The sight of ravenous multitudes standing around road side food stalls and kiosks chowing down on falafel and hummus, sabich and shawarma is an everyday sight on every major Israeli street, so it’s safe to say that Israelis love their street foods.
As with most subjects from religion to politics to where to find the best hummus, Israelis have very definite opinions and the often times passionate “debates” of what is the best street food and where to find it represents this tapestry of diverse opinions and cultural origins.
The Israeli foodie wants strong flavors and fresh ingredients. There are no bigger aficionados than Israelis when it comes to street food or any food in fact.
Sabich: A dish that evolved from the Iraqi-Jewish Shabbat breakfast of fried eggplant, “Haminados” 24 hour cooked egg, tahini and pickled mango sauce (amba) stuffed into pita bread with chopped vegetable salad. Sabich can be found all around the country. My personal favorite is a small kiosk in Tel Aviv on 42 Frishman Street.
“Meorav Yerushalmi” Jerusalem mixed grill: A feast of cholesterol but absolutely addictive; a combination of chicken hearts and liver, turkey testicles and gizzards, together with turkey red meat all seared on a hot griddle in a mix of spices like cumin and turmeric. It is then served in a pita with hummus, hot sauce and a salt pickled cucumber. Only to be found in Jerusalem. There are a few places near the Mahane Yehuda market serving this. But the original and still the best is Steakyat Chatzot (“Midnight Steakhouse”) on 123 Agripas Street.
Burekas: Large pastries of Turkish and Bulgarian origin made from phyllo filled with either cheese or potatoes or spinach. Many places will slice the bureka into smaller slices and serve it with egg “Haminados”, pickles and tahini.
Shawarma: Familiar to all as Greek gyro or Turkish kebab, the Israeli version of Shawarma uses turkey thighs layered with lamb fat. The thinly sliced meat is served in a pita, with the addition of hummus, tahini sauce, amba, chopped vegetable salad, cabbage salad, pickles and French fries.
Haifa has some of the best Shawarma: Emil Shawarma on 33 Allenby Street and Hazan Shawarma on 140 Jaffa Road in the Lower City are two of the best.
Falafel: As with hummus, falafel is the focal point of an ongoing debate over where it actually originated. Falafel was made popular in Israel by Yemeni Jews in the 1950s who introduced the concept of serving falafel balls in pita bread. No matter where it originated, falafel is still Israel’s national food. Asking an Israeli as to where to find the best falafel is to invite a full on debate but the essential key is to make sure the falafel was fried in the last few minutes and just in front of you. Eaten standing up (trying to avoid dripping tahini all over yourself) stuffed into a freshly baked pita with your choice of pickles, chili relish, salads and hummus; falafel is the quintessential Israeli food experience.
Sausage and beer – Lithuania and Eastern Europe
Eastern Europeans love their street food, it’s portable and easy to eat perfect for strolling through the large main market squares, arm-in-arm with a friend, or as a quick lunch on the way back to work, or as a special treat to take home to the kids. Hand-formed sausages known as cevapi, on flat bread, are common and grilled pork or lamb kebabs also are typical fare. In the Baltics it is Potatoes, sausages and beer and other popular street food includes grilled kebabs, roast suckling pig, or crusty rings of bread similar to bagels, and Armenian influenced donner kebab with Eastern European-influenced toppings like fresh cabbage salad, pickled cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese and sauce on a slighter thicker version of pita bread.
I was luckily able to sample these street goodies during a work stay in Vilnius, Lithuania. Sunday afternoons sitting at a side walk café in the cobbled alley ways of the old town or grazing my way through the many food stalls and grills during a street food festival that are a common during the beautiful long summer days.
Saigon baguette (Bánh mỳ Sài Gòn) – Vietnam
After the iconic noodle soup Pho and fresh spring rolls, the baguette sandwich is the most recognized Vietnamese dish outside of Vietnam. But in Saigon (Ho Chi Min city) to find the best Bánh mỳ, you need to ask the locals where to go!
Vietnamese love bread, especially the freshly baked, warm and crunchy baguette that this sandwich is made from, a remnant of French colonial dishes that made the transformation into local Vietnamese cuisine.
Filled with Vietnamese pork ham, liver paste (pâté gan), cucumber, coriander, green onion, chili and pickles (đồ chua) made from pickled shreds of carrot and white radish! I have consumed quite number of these delicious sandwiches during my tenure working in Saigon. Incidentally, bánh mỳ has been deemed as one of the best the world’s best street foods by Lonely Planet!
Beijing Street food
Right around the corner from the bustling Wangfujang Street is the famous Snack Street that is always jam packed with hungry locals and tourists. While the food on offer is definitely rated by its shock value the food is also really good, fresh, with extremely clean standards of preparation and a must to try. Skewered deep fried scorpion, bugs and insects of all kinds on a stick, Seafood and smelly bean curd, Roujiamuo, a Chinese bread bun stuffed with a variety of wok fried offal and vegetables. Also the famous Beijing Jian Bing, thin pancakes with meat and vegetable fillings as well as Fried Jiaozi and steamed buns. Or the Uyghur Muslim minority famous lamb skewers. Even now, the smell of cumin and meat at the annual night market reminds me of Beijing.
While working in Beijing I frequented the snack street regularly and I can highly recommend the small grilled whole birds on sticks. Difficult to eat, but once you get the hang of it, definitely worth the mess!
My all-time favorite foodie capital of Asia, Singapore is a cross cultural quilt of culinary styles: Chinese, Malay, Peranakan (Malay-Chinese), Indian, a virtual wonderland of everything that is tasty, spicy and good with hundreds of food stalls in indoor-outdoor food markets that make this a capital of street food from Indonesian satay and Indian influenced Roti Parata (a thin, flaky flatbread griddled to order and folded into a neat kerchief served either plain or stuffed with egg or a variety of fillings) to Hainan chicken, laksa noodles in coconut curry soup with tofu, seafood and condiments or kaya toast (a sandwich of coconut jam) washed down with strong coffee. Something for everyone, worth flying there just for the food……..
Phat Kaphrao -Thailand
My absolute favorite Thai food stall food is Phat kaphrao. This wonderful one-dish-meal is probably not as well known outside of Thailand as Pad Thai noodles or Khao Pad (fried rice) but this spicy, herby, meaty stir-fry is the favorite on the go meal for many Thais. Kaphrao means holy basil, the vital ingredient in this stir-fried dish. The leaves are stir-fried with minced pork, garlic, chilies and chopped long bean. The dish is seasoned with fish sauce and a pinch of sugar, served over rice and topped with a fried egg.
Phat kaphrao is usually found at raan ahaan taam sang (made-to-order) carts, stalls and casual worker’s restaurants. Phat kaphrao is always served with a small bowl of finely sliced chilies in fish sauce and a squeeze of lime.
The island of good eats – Bali
And last but not least is Bali, my latest home away from home. Called the island of the gods but could also be labeled as the island of good eats. Balinese cuisine is unique, influenced by Javanese, Indian and Chinese cooking styles and with the majority of Balinese being Hindu the culinary traditions and foods are to some extent entwined with the many festivals and religious ceremonies. Rice is the essential element in all Balinese dishes with the other ingredients complimenting this central staple.
Street eating and casual dining in Bali revolves around the omnipresent food cart and especially in warungs, which are small family owned business, very casual, frequently outdoor restaurant and an essential part of daily life in Bali and all of Indonesia.
The most common dish served in the warung is Nasi Campur “mixed rice” which is a dish of steamed rice and a variety of sides and condiments. Depending from which areas it originated, nasi campur hawkers will offer several different side dishes, including various meats, vegetables, peanuts, eggs and fried-shrimp crackers. The Balinese version of Nasi Campur may have grilled tuna, fried tofu, cucumber, spinach, Tempe, satay lilit, vegetable curry, corn, chili sauce on the bed of rice.
Other common street foods are Balinese satay known as satay lilit made from spiced minced seafood pressed onto skewers.
Babi Guling a spit-roasted pig stuffed with a traditional blend of Balinese spices including garlic, galangal, turmeric and chili and spit-roasted over an open fire for about five hours basted with coconut milk. The succulent flesh and crackling is served with rice and Lawar, a traditional long bean, minced meat and coconut salad with spices and herbs. Some types of lawar add raw pig’s blood mixed with spices to add taste. The best Babi Guling is purported to be in Ubud at the now famous warung Ibu Oka that has achieved near legendary status through being mentioned on many food blogs and even an episode of “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” who declared the Babi Guling, to be the best suckling pig that he’s ever had.
In my opinion though I have always been more partial to the Babi Guling served at Warung Dobiel an unassuming open front warung in the Nusa Dua village. Definitely also on the way to piggy fame!
These have been probably some of the most outstanding street eats I have been privileged to have tasted around the world but for sure no matter where you live there are always those incredible and scrumptious oasis’s of deliciousness that are the authentic taste of home where ever that may be.
So get into the street and eat!