Street Food: An Exploration into History and Culture 

What is street food?

Street food is food prepared and sold on the street or in other public places. It is available for immediate and on-the-go consumption. Sometimes, snacks and sweets are classified as street food. But it can also be actual meals like fish and chips or roasted plantains. Street food is often satisfying enough to get people by throughout the day. 

These foods are usually sold by people in stalls, food courts, food trucks, and occasionally, hawkers. Vendors that have a spot—they are not mobile like hawkers—typically produce their food in the same place. 

For many people, this type of food is a life-saver. 

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Countries and their street food

If you visit any country, make it an agenda to try out its food. You get a closer feel of its culture that way. For a tourist, street food allows you to have many foods at once at a cheap price. But for starters, avoid raw or undercooked meals.

Nigeria

Enjoying street food in Nigeria may range from getting a handful of puff puff to skewers of peppered grilled meat (suya) or roasted plantains (Boli). Nigerian street food also includes complete meals like fried yam and peppered meat (dundun) or Abacha.  

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Puff puff 

Korea

Hotteok, tteokbokki, gimbap, sundae, mandu, eomuk, twigim, this list could go on and on. When you hear “street food”, think “Korea”.  This is arguably the home of street food. Travelers cite it as one of the top countries to enjoy street food, saying that it doesn’t just taste good but is often healthy and prepared under hygienic conditions. 

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Tteokbokki

France

The best place to have a crêpe is on the streets of France. This street food is a thin pancake served with fillings of your choice. A baguette sandwich may seem quite inconvenient to eat on the go, but it is a quick and delicious food option you should try. 

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Baguette sandwich 

Italy 

Italy is home to pasta, gelato, and wine, but its street food is just as loveable as its other foods. Cannolis are one of the most loved street foods by locals, and even non-locals can’t seem to get enough of them. Arancini, frico, and panelle are also mouth-wateringly delicious. 

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Cannoli

Germany 

German street food reflects their love for bread, potatoes, and sausages. Most street foods contain at least one of these ingredients. Pretzels, an arguably popular snack, are a German street food locals and tourists love. But if you’re looking for something different, try the Kartoffelpuffer.  

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Kartoffelpuffer

The history of street food

The first street food is believed to be fried fish, and evidence of where it originated dates back to ancient Greece. Subsequently, the trend spread to other parts of the world, becoming a part of their culture and daily lives. 

In those days, houses occupied by the less wealthy did not have kitchens. So, they had to depend on street vendors to eat every day. But as urbanization came into the picture, street food began to evolve. Once known for catering to the poor, today, street food is enjoyed by people of all social classes. A good number of wealthy people patronize street food vendors every now and then. 

The discovery–so to say–of the famous pâtés from France is credited to the evolution of street food. The recipe was born to provide quick, cheap, and easy-to-make meals for laborers and errand boys. It is made by enclosing a mix of different ingredients (filling) in pastry. 

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Why do people love street food?

One thing’s for sure: the taste is amazing. Street food lovers love it because its unparalleled taste is difficult to recreate at home. It’s almost as if the vendors have their secret recipe.
Another, and more important, fact is that it is quick and cheap. Some people, mostly students and bachelors, prefer to patronize these vendors because it takes the stress of cooking off them, and they can get so much food for so little.  

However, there is the “hygiene” consideration concerning street food. When tourists talk about their love for street food, the matter of hygiene often comes up. However, they have praised countries like Korea for having high hygiene practices in the preparation and sale of street food. Finding vendors that value hygiene just as much as you do is key.  

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The cultural aspect of street food 

A country’s food tells you about its culture. It tells you about its most loved staple and how its people prepare and pair food. In an average Nigerian home, rice is the most frequently eaten meal. There is even a joke among locals that the ideal Sunday meal is jollof rice. This tells you that rice is a major part of the culture. 

Street food is one good way to experience the culture of the people because it generally features the go-to, everyday meals of the population. It answers questions like what food they eat as snacks, how often they eat a particular food, how popular a food is among locals etc.  

You can also get an idea of the country’s health status by judging by the foods the locals eat regularly. Street foods prepared under more hygienic and healthy conditions will indicate a healthier populace than those prepared under opposite conditions. 

Cultural heritage 

One thing street food tells you about people is their cultural heritage. Speak with a few locals to find out why they patronize certain street food vendors; aside from their likeness for the taste, they say the food “always” tastes the same.

The ability of foods to maintain the same taste or texture over the years despite the varying availability of certain ingredients indicates the efficacy with which information is passed down from one generation to another.

Some people recently started making puff puffs–a Nigerian street food–with chocolate filling. This resulted in a huge backlash against the trend, as indigenes believed that puff puffs should be kept the way they are.

The idea is that whatever is added or removed from the standard way of preparing the food makes it different from what it claims to be. There are some innovations that people may allow in main dishes and homemade food. However, street food is all about preserving the culture and status quo. 

Cultural intertwining

Furthermore, with increasing civilization, many improvements and external influences have changed modern street food from what it used to be. Countries with a great deal of change are more likely to have adopted some aspects of the culture of other countries. For example, the Döner Kebab is a street food originally from Turkey but has now been successfully integrated into German food culture, making its way into the list of the top German street food. 

Eating culture

The street foods of a country tell you about their eating culture. Indian street food, for instance, is tailored to suit the people’s various eating cultures and religions, given that the affinity for foods like meat may vary based on location or religion. 

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Occupation and agricultural produce

Arrosticini is a common Italian street food. It is made from chunks of lamb cut, grilled over charcoal, and arranged on skewers. Locals love this food, which originates from the Abruzzo mountains, a location home to shepherds. Assessing the street food can determine the occupation of people in a given area. It also gives an idea of the majorly grown crops. 

Work culture 

Last but not least, street food tells you about the work culture of a city. People living in cities without rush hours and late-night work hours are less likely to buy street food. Having a proper meal will be easier for such people. But for Lagosians (Nigeria) who are probably up from 4 am to 11 pm, quick, on-the-go foods may be much more appealing. 

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Street food is tasty, pocket-friendly, and readily available. What’s there not to love?

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