Everything About Street Food From the World's Top Experts
Singapore just kicked off the first-ever World Street Food Congress, starring food-world luminaries such as Anthony Bourdain, Noma co-owner Claus Meyer, and Singapore's "Food Ambassador" KF Seetoh, whose multimedia culinary commentary and events company Makansutra organized the weeklong event. In addition to giving street food fans the chance to sample lip-smacking chow from ten countries, the World Street Food Congress has a cultural goal too: to begin a dialogue about the slowly fading phenomenon of street food.
Street Food Is Disappearing
Chinese TV-show host and winemaker Johnny Chan warns that the flavors of heritage food will change as China’s national sense of heritage disappears. His favorite fish-ball noodle stall in Hong Kong closed after 60 years in business because the vendor didn’t want to continue working with the same level of intensity, and the street food culture was moving indoors. Chan, like many other speakers, is also concerned that street food can’t compete with fast-food chains that are open 24 hours in all the Chinese cities.
But KF Seetoh—the charismatic founder of Makansutra, food guide writer, TV show host, and the force behind the event—has noticed a shift in the street food field in Singapore. Here, entrepreneurs with college degrees, the type that usually go for staid corporate jobs, are opening food stalls instead. Perhaps they will bring the food heritage back? And maybe Singapore should apply for UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list?
Portland Is at the Vanguard of Street Food Culture in America
Portland, Oregon, does a lot of things well: bikes, beards, beer. In his talk, Brett Burmeister (co-founder of the blog Food Carts Portland) added street food to that list. He lauded the city's government for its role in supporting the grassroots industry via 30 lots set aside for food carts—giving PDX about 550 vendors, serving everything from Thai, Polish, and Mexican to barbecue and Viking soul food. He also pointed out that food carts encourage experimentation without the high expenses or initial investment of a full-scale restaurant: Rather than work as a line cook for $10 an hour, an entrepreneur in Portland can charge his or her credit card less than $10,000 to buy a cart and have a business running in day.
In China, the Street Food Scene Is Not Quite as Bright
Pauline Loh, the managing editor of Beijing’s English-language China Daily, painted a much grimmer picture of the street-food culture in her country, arguing that food as part of a lifestyle is being swept away by the wave of progress. First came the Cultural Revolution, when heritage—including food heritage—was considered a dirty word. Then came the economic revolution of the 1980s, when city policemen would chase vendors off the streets to keep roads clean and in line with international standards. As a result, street food culture was pushed out of the cities and into the heartlands. However, the third revolution is the one that Loh fears the most: This is fast food, a trend goes hand in hand with the rapid urbanization of China. She believes that it will take 30 years to get the level of street food back on par with what Singapore currently has.
Anthony Bourdain Has a Dream
In his vision of Food Utopia in the U.S., Anthony Bourdain would like to see fast food chains go out of business. Instead, cities would have small mom-and-pop restaurants that serve immigrant food—because, as he puts it, the U.S. is a country of immigrants. He sees street food as the great leveler: Rich and poor alike line up for it. And street food has to be served on the street, otherwise it’s not street food.
The Best Street Food Meals from the Owner of the World's Best Restaurant The World Street Food Congress will announce its awards later this week. But in the meantime, the gregarious, passionate, and outspoken food revolutionary Claus Meyer, co-owner of Copenhagen's Noma (consistently ranked as one of the best restaurants in the world) spoke about his personal favorites.
We wonder if any will be on the menu at his new food project in Bolivia, a bakery/café/school called Gusto. Here's his list, in no particular order:
- Sliced beef with Andean potatoes cooked on an open-fire grill (La Paz, Bolivia)
- Roasted armadillo (Santa Cruz, Bolivia)
- Bake and shark (Maracas Bay, Trinidad)
- Turkish hotdogs made with sheep abdomen (Istanbul)
- Scallops in black bean sauce (Singapore)
- Bull's appendix cooked with cumin and saffron (Marrakech, Morocco)
- Cow's udder, slow-cooked in milk (Marrakech, Morocco)
- Doubles (Tobago)
- Baby pig a la plancha (Bolivia)
- Chicken rice (Singapore)
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