Walking down the streets, the inviting aroma from the carts of food hawkers makes your mouth water. You are inevitably drawn to the vendor to satisfy your curiousity. The closer you get, the smell fragrance gets stronger and with your curiousity your appetite would need to be satiated as well. Hence the popularity of street food has soared over the years. The fact that these food carts offer convenience, good food and most importantly value for money, is the driving force behind their success. Street hawkers have mushroomed in all corners of the world, from the streets of Kuala Lumpur to the squares of New York City; each offering a delicacy of their own, each serving up the identity of their country.
People flock to these carts on their way to work, during lunchtime and an evening snack. But it is in the summer months when these food stalls are at their peak, serving hundreds of hungry folk per hour. Here are a few of the popular street foods found around the world:
United States of America/Canada:Hot Dog Pushcarts
Homer’s Odyssey, in the year 850, was the first the world ever heard about sausages, ““As when a man besides a great fire has filled a sausage with fat and blood and turns it this way and that and is very eager to get it quickly roasted. . .” Ever since then there has been no looking back. The popularity of hot dogs can be seen from the fact that Americans eat, approximately, 60 hot dogs a day; that number rises in the summer months.
The arrival of hot dog stands in the United States is attributed to the Germans. During the 1860′s German immigrants sold hot dogs, sauerkrauts and milk rolls on carts in New York’s Bowery. That’s not all, the hot dog bun was created to prevent the steaming sausages from burning the customer’s hands. It was meant to act like a bun, but it ended up becoming a trend to be followed for years to come.
Outside every major university, intersection, office building and malls you will find a pushcart with steaming sausages, a variety of relishes, warm buns, ketchup and mustard to create your own perfect hot dog. Best part is all you have to do is eat is while walking to your office or while window shopping. The perfect lunch in minutes.
Did you know: Legendary baseball player Babe Ruth (1895-1948) once downed 24 hot dogs between games of a double header.
India: Pav Bhaji Stands
Street food in India is extremely popular. Walk on any street and you would hear a catcall from the vendors trying to draw you to their stalls. The aroma of spices, fried onions and garlic envelopes the air around you, as the hawkers try to sell their freshly cooked fast food. You can choose from Indian Chaat (a spicy mix of fried flour, lemon juice, tamarind sauce, chillis and onions), Aloo Tikki (deep fried potato patties with spices), bonda (deep fried potato balls in gram flour) and vadai (deep fried lentil dough) among many.
Popular on the streets of India’s financial hub Mumbai is Pav Bhaji. It is spicy potato curry served with buttered buns. You can see action as you make your way towards the vendor. He heats up the oil in a large flat griddle, known as a tava, adds the mashed potatoes, green peas, onions, tomatoes, garlic and a concoction of special spices (pav bhaji masala). The curry simmers for a few minutes and is served hot on a plate with a pat of butter on top. The heat generated by the curry melts and fuses the butter into the flavors of the bhaji. Next the pav, meaning bread in Portugese, is warmed on the griddle and buttered on all sides before serving.
The aroma of the melting butter mixed with the spices will be enough for you to try this street food at least once. Fancy restaurants may serve this dish now but the experience would be far from complete if pav bhaji is not eaten from the street hawkers. Be it anytime of the day or night, these stands serve up hot pav bhajis to eager foodies.
Malaysia: Mamak Stalls
In Malaysia, Mamak stalls are the popular hang out spot for people to eat food, chat, watch an important sporting event and enjoy the day/night out. They have been embedded in the Malaysian culture for years now. The best part about mamak stalls is that they are open for business 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. So, if you are craving Malaysian food at odd hours of the night, you know where to go to take care of your appetite. Essentially, the term mamak refers to Tamil Muslims, who normally run these stalls. You will be spoilt for choice at most mamak stalls as they offer a variety of dishes. Most stalls offer, Roti Canai, Nasi Goreng (special fried rice), Nasi Lemak(coconut rice), Mee Goreng(fried noodles) and their most famous tea, Teh Tarik.
Roti Canai is essentially thin Malaysian flat-bread flavoured with oil. The dough contains eggs, flour, water and is fattened up by ghee or clarified butter. The dough is kneaded, flattened, oil and folded repeatedly. The idea is to have the roti fluffy from the inside but crispy on the outside as it cooked on the flat iron griddle soaked in oil. You can either have it on its own or with lentil curry. But its consistency definitely makes it a must try dish. Normally, Malaysians and tourists alike have their roti with “teh tarik”, which literally means pulled tea. It is a strongly brewed tea that is sweetened by creamers and then mixed by tossing from one mug to another, without spilling. It actually looks like a magician performing a magic trick. Try dipping the roti in the tea for enhanced flavor and enjoyment. So, roti canai and “teh tarik”, midnight snack anyone?
Middle East: Shawarma Vendors
You can call it an Arabic style wrap, but with its unique flavors, the best way to enjoy an authentic shawarma is on the streets of the Middle East. At every nook and corner, you will see a spit covered with a large chunk of meat and fat, rotating in front of fire. The smell of the fat melting with the heat, cooking the meat and spices can be sensed from a mile away. The aroma will act as your navigation device to find the shawarma vendor.
Most vendors in the Middle East serve up lamb or beef shawarmas, but certain also offer marinated chicken shawarmas. But, it is the distinct taste of the lamb that gives the sharwarma an extra zing. It is always recommended to try the lamb shawarma. Watching the vendor shave the meat of the skewer adds to the experience. As the spit is rotating, he carefully shaves the meat with a large knife, making sure at all times, that the meat only falls onto the plate under the skewer. Once the meat is retrieved it is rolled into a pita or lavaash bread. After that it is pretty much like a hot dog stand. You can choose what toppings and sauces you want ladled on top. The vegetables include, diced onions, beetroot, lettuce, pickled gherkins, pickled green chillies and even french fries in some cases. Next step is to decide on a sauce; hummus, garlic sauce, hot chilli sauce or tahini. This is my favorite creation: Lamb shawarma with onions, beetroot and pickled chillis with a generous dose of garlic sauce. Simple perfection.