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Street food the world over. From Japan to Peru, the mouthwatering tour is signed by Slow Food

Lifestyle / -

street food internazionale slow food

Okonomiyaki, chicha morada, crepes, tortillas and choripán. There are countless varieties of street food in the world, although they all share some common characteristics. Street food is cheap, quick to cook, but above all, “zero miles”. Imagining that we are crossing oceans and mountain chains, Slow Food takes us to meet the best products of local cuisine served in the squares and market places of the world.

We start from far away, from the Far East. Japanese gastronomic culture pays great attention to aesthetics, form, beauty, and balance, even where street food is concerned. In addition to the now globalized sushi, sashimi and tempura, Japanese cuisine also offers some delicious street food which is less well-known abroad: ramen (Chinese noodles in meat broth), gyudon (a seasoned beef dish), yakitori (chicken kebabs), okonomiyaki (a cabbage, flour and egg pancake), kushiage (kebabs of meat, seafood and greens, fried in oil).
 
A must-taste is takoyaki, perfectly regular and round little fried balls of octopus, originally from Osaka but which have now spread and are very popular throughout Japan. They are made by preparing a wheat flour batter and adding little bits of octopus, tempura, ginger and onion. The mixture is poured into a very hot special cast iron pan with hemispherical moulds. The balls are then garnished with various sauces, according to taste, and eaten while still hot. Naturally, the flavor changes according to the ingredients used. One could go for some local Japanese varieties of onions such as the winter yatabe, which have a sweet taste, the akanegi, if one is in the Ibaraki district, the sapporokii or the winter Amarume, which are spicy and fragrant.  
 
Mexican antojitos (whims)
We continue our world tour going decidedly west. A long journey takes us from Japan to the Americas. In popular imagination, the United States is the birthplace of modern street food, having brought foods such as hot dogs and donuts to the whole world. Yet there are no American towns in the Forbes list of the world’s best places to eat street food. But Mexico City is there: how could one ignore the traditional tacos, gorditas, quesadillas and memelas? The latter are handmade corn tortillas stuffed with frijoles molidos (refried beans), garnished with salsa, onions and cheese (try it with fresh cheese from santa isabel tetlatlahuca made from the milk of cows kept on pasture and alfalfa). It is really cheap: one memela costs between 8 and 12 Mexican pesos, around 50-80 euro cents.
 
On the other hand, if you want to try an “extreme” snack (botana in Mexican), we recommend the chapulines, edible wild grasshoppers which live in Mexican rye and wheat fields. They are cooked in a pan with a little oil and are eaten as a snack with mezcal or other drinks, and also instead of meat, as they cost really little.
 
Meat-based dishes in Argentina and Peru
On the contrary, meat is an essential ingredient of Argentinian comida callejera (street food): take, for example, choripán, simple bread and chorizo sausage which, like all simple things, is really good. It was the gauchos who started eating chorizo in bread, and the custom spread to towns as well, becoming one of the typical traditional dishes nowadays.
 
We drive our imaginary van up to the northern provinces, where you can eat choripán accompanied with the local varieties of Andean potatoes from the Quebrada de Humahuaca: the papa azul, the señorita and the cuarentilla for example, which are ideal sides with meat and vegetables, or the chacarera, which is perfect for fries.  
 
In Peru too, the par excellence comida callejera is meat-based: anticuchos, for example, are cow heart kebabs, barbecued or cooked in a pan. The recipe is very ancient, dating back to the pre-Columbian era. This dish is traditionally prepared by Peruvian women and eaten with potatoes, aji, a spicy sauce made from tomatoes, coriander, chili and onion, and chicha morada, a particular variety of chicha de Jora, the generic term used in Latin America for all fermented drinks made from seeds and nuts. Chicha morada is made from maiz morado, a dark purple corn and one of the many varieties of corn grown in Peru (cabanita granata, yellow, cheqche and white are just some of the others).
 
An interesting note: in some areas you can try los emolientes, drinks made from linseed and barley, flavored with herbs. In some regional varieties they add jugo de airampo, juice extracted from the airampo cactus .
 
Small-scale African entrepreneurship with msemen and bajias
In Africa, street food is a means of subsistence for some of the most disadvantaged social groups, such as the elderly or women. Consequently, it is an activity which should be helped and supported. But how? By eating their food, of course. Morocco offers a truly amazing range: every corner of towns is bursting with tastes, smells and aromas. Msemen, the Moroccan pancake, is one of the most popular and widely available foods, often together with harsha, a fried semolina flatbread. They are often eaten for breakfast with jam and honey such as the thyme honey from the Ida Ou Tanane region, or that made by the Saharan yellow bee. If you prefer the savory version, msemen can be an excellent accompaniment for olives, or it can be spread with mutton dripping and some tomato sauce.
 
On the other side of Africa, in Mozambique, street food traditions are equally well developed: in the province of Maputo you will find bhajias, traditional legume-based fritters: beans are soaked for three hours, after which they are ground up with salt and onion. The mixture is fried until it is quite a dark color. This dish is also prepared by the ten cooks of the Slow Food Muteko Waho Convivium, who use products from the Maputo Earth Market. Like many other street hawkers in developing countries, these ten cooks do all the cooking at home and then every morning they jump onto a chapa – the typical overcrowded minibuses used in Mozambique - taking a little stall with them, complete with crockery and everything they need to sell their dishes in the various areas of the capital. 
 
Traditions in the old continent
These far-off countries offer food of many colors and with an infinite range of tastes, proving that a few cleverly cooked cheap local ingredients are the right recipe for unrivalled dishes. And what about Europe? The Old Continent is certainly not going to cut a shabby figure beside the incredible range on offer from overseas. Each country has its own specialty: pancakes in France, French fries in Brussels and fish and chips in England… But when we come to food from the Balkans, where the gastronomic culture has been strongly influenced by the mixture of different traditions which have intermingled over the centuries, above all the Turkish and the Slavic ones, there can be no real national boundaries.
 
This is even more true of street food: just about everywhere you will find the special puff pastry dishes called burek, stuffed with  local meat, vegetables and cheeses: in Romania they use brânză de burduf cheese, in Albania, mishavin, in Hungary ham from the Mangalika pig, in Bosnia Herzegovina traditional Livno cheese, and so on. All of these dishes can be accompanied by a typical street drink, variously known as boza, bosa or bragă, a thick, beige colored drink with a strong and bittersweet taste made from fermented cereals, wheat bran, corn, millet or oats, left to soak. The bragagiu, or street bragă seller, who advertised his wares by shouting out loud, was an emblematic figure in Romanian city scenes towards the end of the XIX century, particularly in towns where a lot of trade took place, but nowadays a few, rare, genuine specimens still survive.
 
Hopping over to India, the land of spices
Of course, this is not the end of our journey through the most characteristic and tastiest street food in the world. There are so many countries left to discover, but our food truck needs a rest and we need a snack: so our last stop is in India. Starting with sweet tastes: in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, cheek, also called kharvas, is sold on the street. It is a sweet drink made from the first milk a cow yields after giving birth, the richest in protein and least fatty. The milk is sweetened with sugar or jaggery, an unrefined raw cane sugar, and cinnamon, saffron and cardamom are added. Those who produce it, almost always at a home craft level, sell it door to door or from a little stand on the side of the road. 
 
But for a quick snack one can go for amla fruit or Indian gooseberry, or sho plow, sold from street carts and eaten raw with salt and chili pepper or pounded up with ginger and chili to make a chutney. Another fruit which is a very popular street food ingredient in India, particularly in Maharashtra and the Western Ghats region, is the kokum: its pulp is dried and concentrated to make a syrup for a refreshing juice, which is sold and drunk by the roadside.
 
For those who like savory tastes, there is the batata vada, which means potato fritter. The dish is made using mashed potatoes seasoned with mustard seeds, curry leaves, chili pepper, onion and powdered dry asafoetida exuded by the tap roots of a plant which smells of sulfur and tastes like garlic, but spicier, then dipped in chick-pea flour and fried. A few drops of garlic, add salt and curcuma and it’s ready to eat. And then there are chicken rolls, ragda patties, anda bhurji, mirchi bada, and pani puri…so many dishes that if you were to try them all, you would stay in India forever!
 

That fine alcoholic line we tread

Culture / -

vino vs birra

Why is it that the Italians, French and Spanish are wine lovers, while the Germans, British and Belgians are big beer drinkers? We go back to the roots of a difference in taste that has long divided Europe in two. But it is a separation that is slowly disappearing.

Autumn is the time of the harvest and wine; but also of Oktoberfest and foaming tankards of beer. These are two drinks that are both the result of alcoholic fermentation (grapes on the one hand, and cereal on the other), but which for centuries have juxtaposed two "civilizations": that of wine, in the south, overlooking the Mediterranean and that of beer, in the north, across the River Danube. It is a separation that is apparently only alcoholic in nature, reflecting in fact the once dominant crops in the respective climatic zones: the vine on the one hand, and barley on the other.
Eastern origins. Yet neither wine nor beer originated from Europe. The oldest earthenware jar with residues of fermented grapes, dates back to 5,000 BC, and was found in a Neolithic village in Iran. Then the Egyptians, 3,000 years later, embarked upon winemaking on a large scale.
Even beer has its roots in the Middle East. There, the Sumerians discovered it in 3,000 BC, combining the same ingredients of bread (water, grain and yeast) in different proportions to obtain a pleasant and slightly intoxicating drink. From Mesopotamia, beer went again to Egypt, as can be seen in painted terracotta statuettes of women intent on stirring it in bottles.
Liquid bread. In fact, the beer of the ancients was much denser than the one we know today. And its taste, produced by the fermentation of complex carbohydrates in cereals, tended to be bitter-sweet, not sour. Nor, on the other hand, should we believe that wine would taste the same as that of modern-day wine: alcohol and resin production were so intense that it was almost impossible to drink without lengthening it with water or adding herbs, spices, fruit or honey. The fact is that for centuries the Romans disparaged the "barbarian barley wine," in the words of Tacitus; a snub which was reciprocated with equal contempt by Germanic peoples for the fruit of the vine. As late as the 12th century, in England, the son of Henry II refused to drink wine, considering it "a foreign drink."
Opposite paths. Over time, the contrast between the culture of wine and the beer took on religious overtones. While the drinking of wine became sacred within the Christian liturgy, beer was used for many rites of pagan peoples. So as it penetrated the northern forests and the eastern steppes to the heart of the Roman Empire in the wake of the barbarian invasions, wine followed the opposite path of monks engaged in preaching the gospel and planting vineyards. At the same time the two drinks achieved important flavor changes. During the Middle Ages, someone tried adding the flowers of hops to the beer during fermentation, gaining a double benefit. On the one hand, the hops prompted the deposit of solid waste, clarifying the beer and making it more suitable for drinking with meals. On the other hand it gave it a bitter flavor that, mixed with its sweet taste, was immediately met with enthusiasm. On the other path, wine became less sharp, more delicate. And there were color adjustments. If white wine was not sufficiently clear and clear, an egg white would be added. On the contrary, a red wine of deep hues was preferred and if it was not deep enough, it was tinged with wild grapes or black berries.
Mixes. In the end the boundaries between the two civilizations of drinking over time became more and more permeable, and "contaminations" were numerous and large-scale. Throughout northern Europe no elegant table could be without a show of good wine. To the south beer steadily became part of the food culture of countries like Spain, traditionally a wine connoisseur. Of course, some local specificity has remained rooted in its customs. And even in Italy, where few still disdain a beer as a natural pairing to pizza, there are still many who prefer it to a glass of wine with a plate of pasta.
 
 

A taste of the works from the exhibition "Il cibo nell'arte. Capolavori dei grandi maestri dal Seicento a Warhol" (Food in art. Masterpieces from the Great Masters from the Seventeenth Century through Warhol)

Culture / -

 
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Basket of pumpkins, The painter Caravaggio
Autumn Allegory, Antonio Rasio
Still Life with magpies, Johannes Hermans called Monsù Aurora
Cabbage, plate with sausage, plate with a plucked chicken, chopping board with meat and carrots, onions, garlic and tomatoes Giacomo Cerutidetto Pitocchetto
The Ricotta Eaters, Vincenzo Campi
Metal plate with peach and vine leaves, Giovan Ambrogio Figino
Figs, plums, peaches and melons, Giovanni Stanchi
Peaches, plums, walnuts, apricots, figs and monkey, Michele Pace detto Michelangelo del Campidoglio
Pantry with fruits, vegetables, cold meats and cheese, Jacopo Chimenti called l'Empoli
The last supper, Andy Warhol
Chiquita Banana, Mel Ramos
Gorgonzola, swiss cheese and bread on the table, Cesare Tallone
Breads, ham, casatiello and ice on the table, Giuseppe Recco

Until June 14 at Palazzo Martinengo in Brescia, the exhibition "Food in Art. Masterpieces by the great masters from the 17th century to Warhol" closely linked to the theme of Expo Milano 2015. Over 100 works look at the relationship between food and painting.

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