EXPERT • April 2016
Love it or loathe it, some of the most gourmet dining experiences can be found at the side of the road. The man hailed as ‘the pioneer of street food’, MEATliquor founder Yianni Papoutsis, shares his love of the culture
For me, ‘street food’ covers anything cooked, served or eaten in impromptu locations. It could be a little old lady hunched over glowing coals by the roadside or an air-conditioned food mall housing dozens of vendors.
Bubbling pots and smoking woks are common in Asia, but don’t be put off by the food courts and hawker centres, as many have hidden gems. Most people will have heard of the bustling night markets of Bangkok, and in Singapore we’re spoilt because MEATliquor is near the famous Maxwell Hawker Centre, renowned for sublime Hainanese chicken rice.
Over in Portland, Oregon, haute cuisine is as likely to be served on a paper plate as it is a linen tablecloth, and both LA’s taco trucks and New York’s huge pizza slices and tiny hot dogs have featured in countless films. Head to South Carolina for fiendishly addictive boiled peanuts, then through Mexico, where street food is ubiquitous. Likewise, every country in South America has a take on curbside dining, from Venezuela’s arepas (cornmeal patties stuffed with savoury fillings) to the Brazilian completo – a hot dog covered in every imaginable topping, served in a plastic bag filled with mashed potato.
Often, a country’s ‘signature’ street food is adopted from other cultures. Think of doner kebabs in Britain, or for high-speed street food, head to one of the many rastplatz that line Germany’s autobahns and grab a currywurst.
In Denmark, I spent many nights huddled around the pølsevogn (sausage car) sucking down bright red hotdogs, served with bread and a dab of mustard and ketchup.
Food to go: Find the ubiquitous currywurst beside autobahns and in city centres
Soused herrings are a traditional remedy for hangovers in the Netherlands and, dipped in chopped raw onions, are eaten by holding the tail and letting the entire fish slip into your mouth in one go.
Greece has a plethora of street food, such as souvlaki and gyros served with a few chips inside pita bread, but search out tost – a double-decker, toasted ham-and-cheese sandwich flavoured with mustard, ketchup, chilli flakes, salt, pepper and oregano. In Istanbul you’ll see ‘wet burgers’ piled high, soggy with spicy tomato sauce.
Street food is part of the informal infrastructure that fuels us on our travels. Fleeting moments of sustenance and guilty pleasure, it is where people’s paths cross and society rubs shoulders with itself, bridging cultural divides through the medium of food. A good sausage can be a great leveller, I’ve found…