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Posted at: May 14, 2017, 2:23 AM; last updated: May 16, 2017, 8:52 PM (IST)

Around the world in 80 plates

The street food is a great equaliser. It cuts across all class barriers. In most famous stalls across India and the world you will find aam aadmi rubbing shoulders with a Merc owner, even royalty at times...

Aditi Garg

India llives in its streets, it eats there as well. Not long back before the advent of designer street food, available in the ubiquitous mall just around the corner and sometimes outside it, in the summer of your youth, there was the kulcha-chana vendor, peddling down the street, the tikki wallah trudging behind , and the golgappa and the kulfi vendor following suit adding to the temptation to indulge your taste buds. 

While maa-ke-haath-ka khaana can take care of the nourishment of the body, for any foodie, it is the street food, which nourishes his soul. India is a food-lover's haven, with its multiple regional cuisines and a vendor at every corner selling melt-in-your-mouth dishes at throwaway prices. But then it is not the only one cos for a foodie the world is actually his oyster. 

A global phenomenon

The world over the intoxicating aroma wafting from food stalls can entice locals and tourists alike. It is easy on the pocket, fuss-free, easily available — a perfect recipe to please both the masses and the classes. Mitzie Mee (mitziemee.com) is a popular blog among foodies across the world. Sanne Møller, who writes it, has the perfect credentials to give you tips on the global street food. She was born in South Korea, raised by Danish parents, lived in Greece and Spain, and currently resides in Dubai with her husband Poul. She says, "Street food in Bangkok is one of the best and cheapest. My favourite is the mouth-watering khanom buang (rice flour crepes filled with white meringue, sprinkled with threads of sugared egg yolks). The freshly made som tam (papaya salad) is another yummy delight. For those adventurous of the spirit and tongue, they can try boat soup. That is a noodle soup seasoned with pig blood, available at stalls behind Victory Monument." She cautions against staying away from touristy places and highly recommends a visit to P'Aor down Phetchaburi 5 road for the best tom yum soup you would ever taste.

From East to West, street food is a language everyone speaks. The USA, with its vibrant melting pot of different cultures, has various vendor-foods but hotdogs have attained a cult status. It is the grab-and-go ease which makes these so very popular. Jerry Strahan, general manager of Lucky Dogs Inc. for the past 41 years, swears by the huge popularity his famous 'dogs'. "Lucky Dogs was founded in New Orleans in 1947. More than the 70 years it is still going strong. The equipment has become modernised, but our vendors still use the same process of steaming the buns and making hot dogs. Our carts are easily recognisable," he says. As hawkers rustle up these 'dogs' right in front of you, it is probably fresher than that at a restaurant with less footfall.

Signature dishes

Most street vendors don't have elaborate menus. They stick to one or two dishes that they have honed to perfection. Sanne feels that is a big factor in making a street food one of the best meals one can have anywhere. It is no coincidence that Lucky Dogs also makes just hot dogs and makes these well. India-born Anna Kler who studies in New Orleans and has lived in Singapore as well, echoes similar sentiments. Most hawkers in Singapore offer one or two dishes and these are always bang on. She puts things in perspective when she says, "In India, street food is all around, but it is not so in US where people hardly walk. Only the tourist destinations or areas where people walk, like New Orleans have food carts. But Singapore is a true foodie's paradise — reasonably priced, hygienic and tasty."

Know culture through flavours

Street food is the lowest common denominator that can unite the rich and the poor. Dotted around Noida are stalls that sell the rustic Bihari dish, litti-chokha. There was a time when the rikshaw pullers, auto-rickshaw and cab drivers were their main clients, but the quest for a taste of home now draws IT professionals and businessmen who belong to Bihar. Local food offers the best insight into a culture. Beatrice started working in Reality Tours and Travel in 2016, with an aim to suggest the best, safest and the most hygienic street foods from Mumbai and Delhi to tourists to give them the best-possible experience. She says, "The response has been great, especially from foreigners. One of the most loved street food tours we host is the special tour during Ramzan."

Given the love for street food, it comes as no surprise that India has its own National Street Food Festival in Delhi every year. Started in 2010, it has street food vendors from all over India serving the best of their fare to awestruck foodies who mark the date for the next rendezvous well in advance. With over 300 regional cuisines from 29 states up for grabs, it is no wonder a much awaited event. 

Dishing it with pizzazz

Not every place is climatically suited for serving food in streets; especially where it rains a lot. The UK is notorious for its rainy weather. But when the sun does come up, so do a lot of carts and pop-ups that can be seen serving the national favourite, fish & chips. However, with even the street food reinventing itself, people are coming up with innovative ideas for serving it. General stores have pop ups that feature street food vendors from different countries, introducing locals to much more than just what they have always been eating. 

In Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA, STREET is an eclectic restaurant that dishes up savoury street foods in cosy comfort of four walls. They serve food from Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East, the Americas. Gobi 65 represents India. Michelle Lozuaway, co-owner with chef/husband Josh Lanahan, says, "What makes street food special is that it is typically the food of the people. It is accessible and affordable and infinitely edible every day, any day!" Their cemitas, tacos, bibimaps, and other dishes are a big draw for visitors. 

The growing popularity of street food has been so much that a food stall, the world's first ever, has been awarded a Michelin star, where else but in Singapore. The mouth-watering chicken-rice dish, the Hong Kong soya sauce chicken rice and noodle by chef Chan Hon Meng got it the coveted star. And it just costs $1.42, cheapest Michelin meal ever around the world, but undoubtedly one of the very best. 

 

So what are you waiting for? Pack up your bags — spoons, chopstick included — and give your taste buds a relishing holiday.

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