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Street food: Five top finds

Street food has caught on in a big way among gourmands. Here are some of our favorites, from Peru to Singapore.

Chef Bobby Chinn sips from a bowl of Laksa, a spicy noodle soup popular in Singapore hawker centers, in Singapore, April 6, 2009. Laksa is one of GlobalPost's five top street foods. (Vivek Prakash/Reuters)

ST. HELENA, California — Street food — whether kebabs in Istanbul, pho in Hanoi or tacos in Mexico City — is immediate.

It’s urgent. It’s mobile.

The aromas and flavors are gutsy and bold.

You have a direct connection with the person who is actually cooking your food.

And it's usually a big value.

All of the above makes street food the most relevant and responsive culinary trend in cities around the world.

Istanbul kebabs
Fruit kebabs finish street meals in Turkey.
(Cathy Huyghe/GlobalPost)

That's why the 12th annual Worlds of Flavor conference held at the Culinary Institute of America campus in St. Helena, Calif. in November turned its spotlight on street food and the people who cook it. Far from the realm of celebrity chefs or television personalities, the expert cooks leading demonstrations and tastings throughout the three-day festival were more modest in their focus — not because of a lack of skill but because they had been cooking a single dish in the same environment every day for decades.

Street food has been around as long as cities have. But our top five tell a story about the world today:

1. Fish kebabs in Turkey. Fishermen return to port in Turkish cities like Istanbul and Izmir with the day’s catch of mackarel, sea bream, anchovies or other catch of the day. They fillet the fish then pan fry or grill it, and hand it over to you from the decks of their small boats.

Peruvian food
Peruvian vendors show their creativity with the spiced honey they serve with picarones.
Courtesy of the Culinary Institute of America

No marinade, no salt, just a kebab of fish with a piece of bread. Pure and perfect. Round out the meal with bits from other vendors on the street, like watermelon, cherries, cucumbers and finally something sweet.

2. Picarones with honey in Peru. Peru's capital Lima has long been at a cultural and geological crossroads, with influences flowing from the Andes, the Amazon, the Pacific Ocean, the Spanish, indigenous peoples and transient populations. Picarones are hand-rolled doughnuts deep-fried in the Spanish tradition. But each vendor-chef makes a unique accompanying sauce or honey. Chef Marilu Madueno, for example, infuses honey with dried figs, raisins, clove, cinnamon and anise seed. It tastes like something from the Spanish Middle Ages.