Street food, whether it’s kebabs in Istanbul, pho in Hanoi, tacos in Mexico City or meat pies in Australia, is always immediate.
It’s urgent. It’s mobile. The aromas and flavours of it are gutsy and bold.
You have a direct connection with the person who is actually cooking your food. And it’s usually great value for money. All of that makes street food the most relevant and responsive culinary trend around the world.
Street food has been around for as long as cities have been. Try these six.
1. The Australian meat pie:
This national dish sells at bakeries, convenience stores and street vendors. A good old Aussie pie is often paired with a game of footy or a swig of beer. Head to Harry’s Cafe de Wheels at the wharf at Woolloomooloo, inner Sydney, to buy one of the country’s finest pies; sold here for more than 70 years.
Sydneysider Harry Edwards began the business in the 1930s and it wasn’t long before it became notorious with sailers, soldiers, cab drivers and celebrities.
Reopening in 1945 after the war, it became Cafe De Wheels, due to council regulations ordering street vendors to move their vehicles at least 12 inches a day.
While no longer on wheels, Harry’s still provides a satisfying late-night fix. And its popularity is growing, with franchises opening around Sydney and in Newcastle during the past few years.
Harry’s Tiger is the joint’s signature dish, a chunky beef pie smothered in mashed peas and potato, swimming in gravy. It’s the type of meal best eaten at 4am.
The shop serves other pies, baked daily from Hannah’s Pies in Ultimo: steak and mushroom, seafood, chicken curry. It also has American hot dogs.
Harry’s has seen Elton John, Frank Sinatra and Marlene Dietrich tuck into its pies. These days, it’s mostly the young crowd that drops by late at night for a good feed.
2. Fish kebabs in Turkey:
Fishermen return to ports in cities like Istanbul and Izmir with the day’s catch of mackerel, sea bream, anchovies and other fish.
They fillet then pan fry or grill the fish, and hand it over to you from the decks of their small boats.
No marinade, no salt, just a kebab of fish with bread; perfect. Round out the meal with bits from other street vendors, such as watermelon, cherries, cucumbers and, finally, something sweet.
3. Picarones in Peru:
These hand-rolled doughnuts are deep-fried in the Spanish tradition and are available in most cities, which have been influenced by different cultures and cuisines such as Spain, the Andes, Amazon and Pacific Ocean. Vendor-chefs make an accompanying honey sauce infused with dried figs, raisins, clove, cinnamon or anise.
4. Beef pho in Vietnam:
The main ingredients echo the main cultural and political influences of Vietnam: beef from the French, rice noodles and ginger from China.
It’s the signature dish in Vietnam’s street food repertoire. It is common for a chef-vendor to make only one dish for nearly their entire life. The same woman has parked herself on the same corner in Saigon for the past 30 years with her sticky rice flavoured with turmeric and coconut, served on a banana leaf.
But Vietnamese street vendors face a modern threat: the Government is pressuring street vendors to move away from streets populated by tourists.
Chefs say the move will alter the nature of the food on offer.
5. Sfenj in Morocco:
Street food in Marrakesh, Morocco, originated with poor, working class people who travelled to the city from outlying areas for work and had no car or means to return home for meals.
They would treat themselves to sweets such as sfenj, a type of doughnut made with an unsweetened yeast dough, and hearty meals like kefta, spiced ground meat.
Today, residents – working class or not – choose to go out and eat street food for dinner rather than stay home and cook. It’s cheaper and simpler than the preparation and clean-up at home.
But the trend to eat away from home reflects another class shift, says chef Mourad Lahlou.
“Ten or 15 years ago, people had maids and cooks in their homes. No one wants to do that anymore. They are there from eight to five, and then they go home to their own families.”
6. Laksa in Singapore:
Ten thousand itinerant street food hawkers used to crowd the one-square mile that is central Singapore.
But 50 years ago, the Government swept them all into 120 hawker centres the size of a football field, each of which houses about 200 tiny kitchens.
Today, some 35,000 licences have been issued to hawker centre vendors. The secret to their food?
Each chef-vendor prepares and sells one dish and one dish only.
For laksa, a spicy noodle soup, the chef prepares each component in the morning.
First, they make the broth, then they blanch the noodles, cook the shrimp, shred the cucumbers and grind the chillies. Then, when everything is ready, they sell it until it runs out.