It’s summer; the sun is out; the weather is warm, and that holiday you booked in January is now just around the corner. And whether you’ve have had the chance to go abroad recently, or this summer is the first trip away in a while, there’s no doubt you need to make the most of it. Whether it’s slogging it by the pool with a stack of books, taking in local architecture or going on a hike – there’s plenty of activities to do – and for many diving into a country’s food culture is one of the best.
After all, a country’s food gives a perfect insight into their culture – the practices, techniques, and stories behind certain dishes and how they’re prepared and served, all points to the history and experiences of the people living there. Trying new foods on holiday to expand your cultural knowledge is a great way to appease both needs, and one of the best ways to do this is through street food; easily transportable dishes prepared and sold from market stalls, food trucks and streets vendor kiosks.
The History of Street Food
Street food has been around for centuries, an inexpensive way to feed poorer people, and provide cheap alternatives to restaurants and hotels. Although all regions will have their own specific history, in Europe, street food can be traced back to the Ancient Greeks where vendors would catch fish, fry it, and sell it on the side of the road. This practice then spread throughout the Roman civilisation; many people from poorer backgrounds didn’t have access to a kitchen in their homes and so relied on street food vendors for cooked meals. Evidence of ancient Roman street kitchens called a ‘thermopalia’ (literally translating to ‘places where hot drinks are sold’) were found by archaeologists in more rural parts of Italy during excavation. You could expect baked cheese, boiled meats, lentils and even oysters (once considered a poor man’s food) on these menus.
Fast forward to today, the street food industry is estimated to be worth around £1.2 billion according to Stiritup’s Street Food Trend Report. You can find street food markets across the country, from London’s famous Borough Market all the way up to the Big Feed Street Food in Glasgow. And although street food may have evolved into a billion-pound industry here in the UK, for many it’s still a means of eating affordable, hot meals and to preserve culture through cuisine.
In fact, some of the most famous cultural dishes we know and love, descend from street food culture. Take Mexican tacos and burritos, yakitori from Japan, Greek gyros and Bánh Mì from Vietnam, just a few examples of tasty, transportable dishes that have all derived from street hawkers creating delicious, affordable meals.
“We have amazing diversity in street food in the UK, you see so many different street foods, I think we are really lucky,” Spanish chef and restaurateur José Pizzaro tells us. “Street food is creativity, and we learn a lot through trying different street foods.”
José grew up on a farm in Talaván and has fond memories of street food and on-the-go Spanish delicacies from fresh fried fish served in paper cones, empanadillas on long car journeys and Friday trips to the local mercados de Abastos.
“It is a Spanish tradition and part of social life, to go early in the morning to have coffee and some churros, do the shopping and come back home to prepare lunch for the family, it’s something remarkable.”
We’ve rounded up some of our favourite street food recipes so you can feel like you’re travelling the world at home.