It can get a bad press, and every seasoned traveller has a ‘Tangiers Tummy’ tale they’re happy to tell in grizzly detail, but it’s unfair to look on street food as the potential assassin of holidays. More often than not, the produce is fresh, locals graze there, and the street can make for a more sociable occasion than run-of-the-mill restaurants. So here’s a few of our favourites snacks, in some of our favourite places.
Rid yourself of tex-mex prejudices, that’s cop-out cuisine, a flaccid remake of the more interesting original. Corn on the cob is another big favourite, but the trusty taco should be the first street food you try on a culinary tour of the Mexican capital. Take some pork, nestle it between two corn tortillas, then add plenty of shredded lettuce and onion, coriander and tomatoes and make sure you give it all a tart, tasty zing with plenty of lime, chilli and salt. Tacos really are the perfect between-meals offering, ready in a flash, small enough to all but pop into your mouth in one go, and not too filling. Trouble is, one’s never enough.
Turkish food is made for the streets. The many mezze dishes and plethora of pastries that are a feature of cuisine here are best consumed on the go, downtown among the hustle of Istanbul’s souks and streets. The simit is a good one to start with, not least because it’s the snack that you’ll see everywhere of an Istanbul morning. Doughnut in shape but bready and coated with sesame seeds, grab an armful, with some jam and cheese, wash down with a sharp little black coffee and you’re ready for another day’s sightseeing.
They can do wonders with a baguette, some pork and a charcoal brazier in Saigon. Okay, so there’s also some pickled vegetables thrown in and a squirt or two of spicy sauce for good measure, but the classic southern Vietnamese snack is simplicity in a bun. Fresh, tasty and filling, you haven’t experienced Ho Chi Minh until you’ve bitten into one of these bad boys.
More market than street food this one. Chick peas and lentils, some vegetables and maybe some meat in a saffron, tomato-and-cumin-rich broth – welcome to the world’s best soup. Or at least, when you’re sitting in the midst of Marrakech’s Djemma el-Fna, watching the nightly carnivalesque mayhem, it sure tastes like it’s as good as it gets. The many stalls that dish up harira are an atmospheric, almost theatrical place to dine, and anyone hankering for something a little more exotic, sheep’s head is another easy to find speciality.
The problem some people have with empanadas is that they worry the pastry hides a multitude of sins. Be bold! If there was a conspiracy among the thousands of empanada sellers across South America to stuff their wares full of putrefying flesh then these morsels may have lost some of their popularity by now. As it is, whether it’s a market or soccer game, bus station or a city’s playa mayor, empanadas are as ubiquitous as a bust honouring Simon Bolivar. Salta’s home to some of the continent’s tastiest empanadas, the filling often that little bit spicier than elsewhere. Head to the city market for fresh, cheap examples, and while you’re there, try the tamales too.
Every guidebook for Thailand’s premier northern city raves about the food, and readers are swiftly knee-deep in suggestions for where to max the tastebuds. Just as swiftly, plans to flit between must-visit restaurants are abandoned, as the smells emanating from street vendors carts, and the lively atmosphere around them, woo visitors into settling down on one of the stools and joining the feast. Staples like tom yam and pad thai will never taste better, while dishes like sen lek moo dang(red pork and noodle soup) and som tam (green papaya salad with shredded catfish) will have you debating whether to go for a second, or third, plateful.
What’s in your nosebag? Share your suggestions about where to hit the streets in search of the perfect forkful at our twitter page www.twitter.com/GeckosTales and on facebook at www.facebook.com/geckosadventures