Close your eyes and imagine the tiny tunes of an ice cream truck. It’s a sound that brings a smile, because who doesn’t appreciate the pleasure of cool ice cream on a sizzling day?
When I was around 10 years old, I left the house wearing a bathing suit practically every day in the summertime. I carried with me a towel, a tennis racket and a ball (so I could practice hitting balls during “adult swim”) and some change for ice cream. Back then my biggest daily dilemma was deciding which ice cream to choose—would it be a drumstick, a fudge or orange and cream popsicle, an ice cream sandwich or a pop up? Happily the choice was all mine.
Depending on where you are, eating on the street can mean ice cream, pretzels, hot dogs, carnival food like funnel cakes, or something even hipper, like today’s modern street food trucks that offer a mash-up of different styles of cuisine. It might be Korean tacos, Indian burritos, modern Malaysian food, or even green tea flavored cotton candy. But all forms of street food have several things in common and those things are the reasons why we love it so much.
1. It’s inexpensive and available to
Buying an ice cream from a truck is something even kids with a little allowance money can afford. It’s an experience just about anyone can have. It requires no deep pockets, no reservation or dress code. Young, old, the adventurous or the picky eater, it doesn’t matter, because street food is for all.
2. It's enjoyed outdoors.
We all know that food tastes better outdoors. I used to think it was because of the weather but then I went to a Christmas fair in Germany. It was freezing cold but no one seemed to mind. Everyone was shopping and drinking beer or mulled wine and snacking. Eating outdoors is social and cheerful and definitely celebratory. The feelings are contagious. We see others eating and having a good time, and we get caught up in the moment.
3. Generally the person who made the food or owns the business is serving you.
Unlike in a restaurant, where it’s a waiter who serves you, with street food it’s someone even more intimately involved. It’s not surprising that they’re more inclined to serve you with a smile. And that makes the food taste better too.
Here are some of my favorite street food experiences and what makes them so special:
Shrimp Trucks on Oahu
Driving to the North Shore of the island you might see the ponds where shrimp are caught. But it’s the trucks where they cook the shrimp that draw the crowds of locals and tourists alike. Seeing those trucks and smelling that garlic and butter makes your mouth water!
Tacos in Mexico
Mexico is one of the best places in the world for street food. Tacos al canasta, literally tacos from a basket, are fresh and warm, made by someone not far from where they are being sold. They taste handmade, because they are.
Sabich in Israel
While falafel and shawarma might be more famous, the tastiest street food in Israel is the Iraqi Jewish eggplant sandwich, sabich. It’s a riot of flavors and consists of slices of fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, hummus, tahini sauce, Israeli salad, cucumbers, parsley, onions, hot sauce and amba, a bright yellow sauce made from pickled mangoes and turmeric. What makes this potentially messy sandwich a successful street food is that it is served in a pita bread. It’s inexpensive and filling.
Sausages in Germany
It’s impossible to resist the sausages in Germany. While I don’t normally associate sausages with Christmas, they are a common treat along with fried potatoes, beer and mulled wine at German Christmas fairs. Christmas fairs offer an outdoor shopping opportunity, lively entertainment or carnival rides, and no shortage of food and drink.
Piadina in Italy
Italians love long leisurely meals, but that doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy street food too. In Ravenna, Italy, it’s piadina, a toasty flat bread cooked on a griddle and filled with cheese. It’s the perfect snack to eat on a park bench or take on the go.
Amy Sherman is a writer and recipe developer based in San
Francisco. She loves exploring different cultures through food and
experimenting with ingredients from her own backyard and around the globe. She
is the author of Williams-Sonoma New Flavors for Appetizers and WinePassport:
Portugal. She has been blogging at Cooking with Amy for more than 10 years and
her writing has appeared online and in print publications including Cheers,
Epicurious, Fodor’s, Gastronomica, and Recipe.com.
Amy is a part of The
Opener, an exclusive, invite-only contributor network
that will bring the best food, culture and innovation writing to the pages of
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