There is something about food steaming in street side stalls and kiosks luring salivating mortals and curious onlookers alike that awaits to impart the experience of a gastronomy not even the most sophisticated of platters can sometimes deliver. For while street food might not be about the grandeur of the gourmet, it sure is about the culture of the country it cooks in. Which makes street food a commoner, but still distinctive enough of its own since it is the common encounters that makes for the most memorable of experiences. Whether you are a native craving for that specific emotion derived from the certain taste of that particular stall with that very tweak of the ingredients or a traveller eager about exploring the authentic food scene of the region you are wandering about, there isn’t anything better than street food to satiate your senses and your spirit. Taking a dig in the most popular street foods of the world you absolutely need to partake of for the raw and real foodie rendezvous-
The Vietnamese word for bread, bahn mi today however is one of the most recognised of street food items in the world. A type of short baguette, not surprising therefore in bahn mi’s origin as a food of French influence, with a thin crispy crust and soft airy texture slit lengthwise and filled to form a sandwich, or eaten as plain bread with accompaniments of course, this is one of the most popular and basic street food fare in Vietnam that is eaten not just for the satiating of taste buds but also as part of a staple meal. From meats and eggs to tofu and ice cream, the filling of banh mi differs as widely as global preferences, making it therefore one of the most versatile street food catering to the gastronomic choices of all.
Trinidad and Tobago
A common street food in Trinidad and Tobago and one of the most unique types of sandwich is the doubles. Popular as breakfast, lunch, late night snack or even as a hangover food, the Double was supposedly inspired by the iconic Indian offering of chole bhature. Two flat fried baras encompassing a spicy curry of chickpeas, Doubles indeed sound like the comfort food that it is to so many Trinidadian people all over the world. Considered today an authentic standard of Trinidadian cuisine even in its non native origins, this is one of the most popular and loved street foods in the island country.
Czechoslovakia and Slovakia
True to the spirit of street foods being all things quick and sinful and simple is the European stuff called Smažený sýr. Popular in the countries of Czechoslovakia and Slovakia, this is a preparation of cheese dipped in flour and egg and breadcrumbs before it is fried and served with tartar sauce or mayonnaise, accompanied also by a salad and some potato fries to make for a hearty treat of taste and flavours and therefore lend it more ‘accountability’ as an absolute street side winner.
For a country consistently ranking as the happiest in the world, it is easy to see where Finland derives its joy from. The answer has to lie in the Lihapiirakka, a meat pie that sure is savoury in its minced meat and cooked rice filling but is in fact made from a doughnut dough, deep fried and served with condiments. Usually eaten whole or split in half in which case it can be filled with a sausage, to make for another Finnish street fare called the Porilainen, the lihapiirakka indeed is an iconic food dominating the corners of this delightful Nordic country.
One of the most interesting street foods to ever be, and once again of Indian origins though today a staple in South Africa is what is known as the bunny chow. Somewhat of a sandwich but not exactly so as well, the bunny chow is a hollowed out loaf of bread filled with some sort of a meat or cheese or egg or veggie based curry that is today a signature dish of the city of Durban. Historically significant in having been developed at the times of the apartheid, this indeed is quite trademark a food even in its ‘weighted’ essence.
Comprising a quarter loaf of bread, thick enough to resist the ‘assault’ of the curry that it holds, this calorie laden treat is as indulgent in its messy identities. Usually served with a side of salad, bunny chow is meant to be eaten with your hands, starting with the ‘clean’ scooped out bread and going all the way down to the soggy bottom, all along soaking the curry up with it, for a street side experience that gets as authentic as it can.
Fritters as street bites in Italy? Hell yes! The stylised version of Indian pakodas, at least kind of, are chickpea based panelle native to Sicily in Italy. A really simple mixture of chickpea flour and water and salt with some herbs cooked together before it is allowed to cool down and then fried again as squares, panelles are iconic street stuff that are believed to be of Arab origin. Usually served stuffed inside a panino, much like a sandwich, or even a burger if you so will, the pane e panelle is not very different from another classic Indian street food favorite, the iconic Mumbaiya vada pav. Talk about similar identities to the ‘I’!
A country fetished so much with the extravagant world of street food that every part of it is home to at least one unique variation of this basic but sumptuous fare, it indeed is a dilemma to pick the most iconic of Indian street foods. But even with so many options available, it is a particular mix dish of all things savoury and spicy and sweet and tangy that takes the crown. Colloquially referred to as chaat, that is readily available in every region of India in different variants as well in some standard occurrences, this is a dix that readily incorporates a range of other street foods into it as well.
Be it samosas or puchkas, vadas or kachoris, pakodas or ghoognis, sprouts or veggies, or even something as unconceivable as condensed milk either as ingredients or the main base of the dish, chaats encompass a wholly different world of flavours in itself. Drizzled generously with sweet and chilly sauces, drizzled with lemon juice, sprinkled with everything from sev and badam to onions and anaardana, a variety of herbs and a range of spices, most prominently the ubiquitous chaat masala and often topped or served with dahi or yogurt, chaats deliver a medley of tastes and flavours and experiences to reinstate its identity as one of the most popular street foods of the Indian subcontinent.
There definitely is more to food in Italy than pizzas and pastas like another ‘p’ term that sums up the wonderful word of pastries. Case in point, the Rustico from the Italian region of Salento, which is every bit a part of the gastronomic elements that the country swears by. Tomatoes and cheese dominate the proceedings within this pair of puff pastry discs, that which is egg washed and oven baked to a beautiful golden crust, revealing a delight of slight greasiness, warm and fresh and waiting to be bitten into to have the melted mozzarella do magic inside your mouth. A part of the Salentine food tradition, that can be relished any time of the day you feel like it, be it mornings or evenings or late nights, this is a rather simplistic street food that delivers impeccably though on the taste, with the lingering zing of black pepper and the creamy drip of the bechamel sauce just about elevating what would be otherwise a basic puff pastry into something that is so sinful, much like every other stemming from Italy.
Sandwiches aren’t usually something that makes for an appearance at street food stalls in most parts of the world. But in Poland it does indeed as an open faced roll of bread topped with sautéed white mushrooms, cheese and ham. Popular since the 1970s, this Polish offering called the zapiekanka is a toasted baguette bread served hot with ketchup. Sometimes also baked in the oven in which case they incorporate additional ingredients and sauces, this is also called the Polish pizza that is remarkable in dominating an expanse within the realm of the culinary in Poland, known as ‘small gastronomy’.
Arepa and Cachapa
An iconic dish of Columbia and today popular also in Venezuela and Bolivia, arepas today are a classic street food in the South American countries. Made from maize flour mixed with water and salt, and occasionally oil, butter, eggs, and/or milk and shaped into patties, arepas are often filled or served with accompaniments like cheese and meats or avocado and ham spread, arepas are most preferred by Venezuelans as street food, right off the griddle even when they are available also in more upscale cafeterias and neighbourhood shops. Another related traditional dish called cachapa is equally popular as street food throughout the country. A type of corn based pancake, cachapas or corn arepas are very present in Venezuelan cuisine and is among the most eaten street foods there, even when being a favorite throughout the Venezuelan culinary scene.
Another street food that counts not just in its taste but also in appearance is a kind of filled Russian bun called the pirozhki. Among the most popular of Russian dishes, extending from the expanse of street food to also be as indulged in as comfort food, these are boat shaped or crescent shaped baked or fried buns that can be had sweet or savoury as per your likings. Filled with a range of ingredients like ground meat, mashed potato, mushrooms, boiled egg with scallions, or cabbage or with fruits and jams or dairy derivatives as a dessert pick, pirozhki though is eaten in different parts of the world as different menu items. An all encompassing food item in general, pirozhki though enjoy an exclusive identity in Russia as a street food that beats all others hands down.
Two street food favorites rolled into one is Turkey’s popular offering that is known in the culinary world as durum. A kind of wrap usually a lavash flatbread filled with typical doner kebab ingredients, that in itself is a preferred bite along the roads of the trailblazing country, durum however isn’t just some humble street stuff in Turkey. Also served in proper eating joints and restaurants, durum makes for quite a filling meal for a street fare and is easily one of Turkey’s most indulged in of meaty delicacies.
For a country so obsessed with street food to have its own term for it, Mexico’s offering along the lanes and roads sure are distinctive. As an antojito, the exclusive Mexican term for this category of delectables, this corn based salad is available everywhere in the country, from dedicated street food stalls to even shops selling corn and other corn based products. Boiled corn kernels are sautéed in butter, with onions, chopped pequin chiles, herbs, and salt and served warm in small cups with condiments like sauces and mayo and lime juice for a healthy and delicious serving of street food sans the guilt.
Quite a healthy, and smelly pick for a street food is a certain tofu variant called stinky tofu that is quite a hit throughout Hong Kong, Taiwan and China. A fermented soybean product, stinky tofu itself is tofu that which derives its characteristic odour and flavor from the fermentation process. The description of either its smell or taste is not particularly appetising, ranging from rotten garbage to smelly feet and blue cheese to rotten meat respectively but that has not in any way ruined stinky tofu’s reputation as one of the most iconic and easily recognisable street foods from Asia.
The dish itself is versatile though, given that you can eat it cold, steamed, stewed, or, deep-fried as per your fancies, accompanied by typically spicy condiments like chilly sauce or soy sauce. Also ranging in color from golden to black and everything in between, this undoubtedly is one of the most unique street foods worth trying at least once in life.
A recurring vision in street food explorations across the world is a certain fish shaped pastry from South Korea. Particularly popular in winter, this is yet another street food that has its origins not in the country it is so integrally rooted in. Originating from Japan as Taiyaki, the South Korean bungeo-ppang began as a mix of Western waffles and Eastern dumplings and is made from a batter of wheat flour and water or milk and eggs.
illed with sweetened red bean paste, another component so readily encountered in the food trails of either country, bungeoppangs are sweet treats so enthusiastically dug into by legions of South Koreans who are enticed by this fish shaped delicacy, that has seen a resurgence in popularity since the 1990s. Also available in such fillings as pastry cream or South Korean “choux-cream”, pizza toppings, chocolate and other such luscious stuff, it is no wonder why these cute looking bungeoppangs enjoys so widespread a popularity throughout South Korea.