Have you ever seen anyone eat food on the side of the road? There is a reckless abandonment that comes along with the act-- hands covered in sauce, a remnant of that same sauce also smeared across the corner of a mouth. Street food asks that you leave etiquette behind, to get dirty and embrace sauce-soaked napkins crumpled between your fingertips. Whether it is coming straight from a grill or trendy painted truck, street food can often be more flavorful than any restaurant, and, best of all, it promotes a direct experience between the chef and consumer. Here are a few favorites from around the world:
A beautiful mess is the only way to describe doubles. The first time I had one on a random corner in Trinidad for breakfast, I knew that it would be the beginning of a messy but worthy relationship. Doubles are channa, a curried chickpea mixture between two pieces of fried bread, called bara. The East Indian food is a staple in Trinidad and perfect melding of flavors. It was originally brought to the country by indentured servants and is similar to a Punjab dish called chole bhature. The airy bread and flavorful chickpeas can and should be covered with mango chutney, cucumber slaw and “shado beni” (a culantro based herb sauce) for the perfect on-the-go meal. Just be sure to walk slowly. Mastering how to eat a double is an art form in itself.
If there’s one thing I learned during my visit in Berlin, it’s this: late nights and currywurst go hand in hand. This German street food is a fried pork sausage seasoned with curry ketchup and often served with French fries. It is the quintessential drunk meal, but, even if you are sober, it is still delicious. The snack was supposedly born in Berlin from a German housewife named Herta Heuwer. A born hustler, Herta supposedly traded spirits with British soldiers in exchange for ketchup. That ketchup was sprinkled with the magic taste of curry powder, and voila, currywurst was born. The affordable food became a favorite for construction workers and soldiers. Today, nearly 1 billion currywursts are sold in Germany. Suffice to say, Herta was on to something.
Some of the best jerk chicken in Jamaica comes from a smoky steel drum on the side of a road. The meat, too tender to stay on the bone, brings a heat to the mouth that can only be cured with moist rice sweetened slightly by coconut milk, and a nice, cold bottle of Red Stripe. The origin of jerk varies. Some historians believe it was a method used by Arawak Indians to smoke and preserve meat. Later, runaway slaves from West Africa, called Maroons, added their own spices to the recipe. Others believe it refers to the literal jerking of meats off and on the grill. The star in any jerk recipe is Scotch Bonnet: a fiery chili that gives heat to the sweetness of the marinade.
An arepa, or, what I like to call a pocket full of heaven, is flatbread made of ground maize and stuffed with cheese or another savory ingredient. It is a staple in both Venezuela and Colombia. The indigenous word for arepa is “erepa,” which means cornbread. There are more staple fillings, like pelúa (shredded steak and cheese) and pernil (pork), but many places are quite inventive with their arepas. One of my personal favorites is stuffed with just black beans, plantains and white cheese.
In my perfect world, every day begins with a breakfast taco. The best of them can be found in Texas. Potatoes, eggs, chorizo, cheese, bacon … the options are endless, really. What makes a breakfast taco stand out, though, is the flour tortilla that holds the fillings. Soft and slightly chewy, with just the right amount of steam to melt the cheese. In Austin, breakfast tacos are a staple, and trucks serving them up are scattered around the city. My favorite? Veracruz All Natural.