It is Summer; Sun shone; The weather is warm, and that January vacation I booked is now just around the corner. And whether you had the opportunity to travel abroad recently, or this summer is your first away trip in a while, you need to make the most of it. Whether you’re lounging by the pool with a stack of books, taking in the local architecture or having a picnic – there are plenty of activities to do – and for many, diving into a country’s food culture is the best.
After all, a country’s food gives insight into their culture – the practices, techniques, and stories behind certain dishes and how they are prepared and served, all point to the history and experiences of the people who live there. Trying new foods on holiday to expand your cultural knowledge is a great way to satisfy both needs, and one of the best ways to do so is through street food; Transportable dishes that are easily prepared and sold from market stalls, food trucks and street vendor stalls.
Street food history
Street food has been around for centuries and is an inexpensive way to feed the poor, providing cheap alternatives to restaurants and hotels. Although all regions will have their own history, in Europe, street food can be traced back to the ancient Greeks where vendors would catch, fry and sell fish on the roadside. This practice then spread throughout Roman civilization. Many people from poor backgrounds did not 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 “thermopalia” (literally translated to “places selling hot drinks”) were found by archaeologists in more rural areas of Italy during excavations. You can expect baked cheese, boiled meat, 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 all over the country, from the famous Borough Market in London all the way to Big Feed Street Food in Glasgow. And while street food has evolved into a billion-pound industry here in the UK, for many it is still a way to eat hot, affordable meals and preserve culture through the kitchen.
In fact, some of the most famous cultural dishes we know and love are descended from street food culture. Take the Mexican tacos and burritos, the yakitori from Japan, the Greek gyros, and Banh Mu from Vietnam, which are just a few of the tasty and portable dishes all derived from street vendors serving delicious and affordable meals.
“We have an amazing variety of street food in the UK, you see so many different foods on the streets, and I think we’re really lucky,” Spanish chef and restaurateur Jose Pizzaro told us. “Street food is creativity, and we learn a lot by trying different street foods.”
Jose grew up on a farm in Talavan and has fond memories of street food and Spanish food on the go from fresh fried fish served in paper cones and empanadillas to long drives and Friday trips to the local Mercados de Abastos.
“It’s a Spanish tradition and part of social life, going early in the morning for coffee and some churros, shopping and coming home to make lunch for the family, it’s great.”
We’ve rounded up some of our favorite street food recipes so you can feel like you’re traveling the world at home.