by Doris Lim
FROM HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
The most humble eats, street foods often make the best culinary experiences that we remember of the countries we visit.
What makes eating by the roadside and alleys underneath clear skies or sheltered by make shift umbrellas so memorable?
Surely it’s not the cheaper cut of meats or stewed pig offals nor bits of chicken on bamboo skewers.
The comforting flavour of home is not about dining in fine restaurants. It’s something that our mothers and grandmothers would make with cheap affordable ingredients. The food is cooked simply and quickly.
The best tasting food is surprisingly made of starch and oil. Some greens and often a little protein from an egg knocked in.
This is how street food sold cheaply by roadside vendors is created. We flock to the cheap eats. Took comfort in the homey feel of a hot rice bowl, curry rice or soupy noodles.
Eaten quickly and hastily, street food has evolved into a cultural past time.
TO WORLD CONGRESS
Founder of Singapore-based Makansutra and creator of World Street Food Congress, K.F. Seetoh saw the need for a congress to celebrate this cultural diversity as a tourism driver and global enterprise.
The charming Seetoh said that good food shouldn’t be expensive. There’s a world of opportunity for real comforting, and affordable food in the world marketplace.
After two successful World Street Food Congress in Singapore, Seetoh took the third congress to Bonifacio Global City in Metro Manila, Philippines.
BIGGER BETTER, MORE TO EAT
World Street Food Congress 2017 (WSFC 2017) saw over 73,000 visitors hitting the event staged over just five days.
Manilenos and visitors jointly queued in the humidity with temperatures up to 40C (104F), to join the feeding frenzy with gusto.
The street feasting festival had a two-day dialogue on the world’s oldest and most popular food culture.
As with all food extravaganzas, meeting celebrity chefs is the name of the game.
For diehard fans, they got to see their idol, chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain in person. The “Dialogues”, is an exciting gathering of Bourdain, fellow speakers and chefs.
The event has garnered world attention.
South-East Asian neighbours promote tourism through this once considered unremarkable and ordinary street food. Eating cheaply, affordably and with a huge variety of choice is a guaranteed tourism blueprint for drawing in visitors.
The lively Asian style street food culture is on the wish list of many countries who want it on their home ground.
For Anthony Bourdain, the stage is set to bring this experience in the Bourdain Market to New York City in 2019.
“We’re carefully assembling a dream list of chefs, operators, street food and hawker legends from around the world in hopes of bringing them together in one New York City space,” said Bourdain.
Across print and social media platforms, the congress reached a tracked audience of a staggering 41 million, according to figures released by the organisers.
WHAT TO EAT?
What would you choose?
Faced with 25 stalls featuring some of the best street food from around the world, I was spoilt for choice.
When I regained my composure, it was tough going through the list of stalls.
Here’s the list of just six popular street food.
The participating countries are Singapore, India, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, United States, Thailand, Mexico, Germany, Japan and host country Philippines.
MALAYSIA : Assam Laksa
Getting that sour, fiery balance of fishy tamarind soup right is the ultimate taste test. The best known taste of Malaysia comes from its street food capital, George Town.
Penang Hawkers are reputed to inherit heirloom recipes and make a mean bowl of this reputed to die for dish.
INDONESIA : Sate Maranggi
A mind blowing 125,000 sticks of the region’s signature dish of marinated beef cubes were skewered and grilled over five days.
This charcoal charred meat is served with a fiery salad of chilli, vinegar and tomato.
THAILAND : Hoy Tord
Crispy flour batter seafood omelette topped with oysters, shrimp or squid is brightened with cilantro, bean sprouts and scallions. This is finished with a dash of pepper and fish sauce.
VIETNAM : Banh Xeo
Sizzling Banh Xeo pancake is a cross between an omelette and a crêpe. This crispy pancake has seafood filling. Eat it wrapped with herbs and dipped in a sweet chili sauce.
INDIA: Hyderabadi Biryani
Hyderabad briyani with its outstanding mix of fragrant masala spices cooked with chicken, yoghurt, and basmati rice in a popular one pot spiced rice dish.
PHILIPPINES : Sitti Tausug
Food Blogger Johor Kaki, Tony Boey said the charm of street food is watching the food being cooked.
Tony described this dish beautifully in his Instagram post.
meaty chicken thigh wrapped in black grated coconut. The natural sweet chicky taste is complemented by toasty sweet taste of charred grated coconut. Served with black rice wrapped and cooked in banana leaf.”
THE FUTURE OF STREET FOOD
Some travellers may look to replicate home taste experiences in its entirety.
There is a new consciousness rising in recent years. There is a demand for authenticity in street food. In Malaysia, many look for “Korchabi” (original taste).
As with evolution, even street food evolves. Old recipes are tweaked and new ingredients are added.
So it goes beyond originality, the sensory experience of taste, sights, colours or even sound.
Eating well is a privilege accorded to all visitors in the global village we all live in.
The cooks, home chefs, hawkers or vendors are sometimes several generations deep in their artisanal craft.
Street food is living and improves with changes in tastes and demands.
It is timely to elevate the street food onto a common world stage, where the street vendors may one day realise their potential and turn professional.