Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The Street Food Phenomenon

It seems everywhere you look at the moment people are talking about street food. What was once only the domain of foolhardy travellers happy to run the risk of certain gastroenteritis it has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight.

 Local events like the “Canberra Multicultural Festival”, which I must admit is my favourite event on the calendar, create a safe environment to explore the world of street food and brings it to the masses.
Canberra's yearly Multicultural Festival or as the locals call it "Meat on a Stick Festival"

Paella at the Canberra Multicultural Festival

The festival hosts booths and food from all over the world

But it doesn’t compare to the real thing. When I look back at all of my travels there is a longing to change the past. At the time I was not so much a foodie and I will admit I was completely afraid of street food. I can remember with a vividness fuelled by regret the dishes I passed up, steaming bowls of Pho in Vietnam, the vast array of meats on a stick in Bangkok, piping hot empanadas in central America it haunts me.

It took a wild haired Guatemalan tour guide for Intrepid Travel to finally break the fear that had a hold of me. It was a simple phrase that unlocked it for me “you are going to get sick anyway so just eat it” it was a light-bulb moment. It was true I had probably had stomach bugs in every third world country I had been in no matter where I ate. They were relatively short lived and I came out the other side just fine. So why avoid have life changing experiences in fear of a bout of diarrhoea, get over it.

This light bulb moment came at the perfect point in time. We were standing in the main plaza of the capital of Mexico’s Yucatan region, Merida, in the glow of the afternoon setting sun in the middle of a street festival. The Spanish band provided the beat to the dancing feet of the locals who danced with abandon on the streets and the grills were flaming cooking away the local delicacies I was finally ready to dive into.

Cautiously dipping in my toes, my husband and I started with dessert, I wasn’t quite ready for street meat just yet. We were attracted to the crepes filled with nutella and bananas, a strange combination that needed tasting. Not entirely convinced this was the height of street food we moved onto the Churros with their sugary dough-nuttyness (yes I just invented a word). Once that was devoured we were ready for the big leagues, Tacos! Wow were they good. We started with one serve of freshly made tortillas filled with juicy pork but as you may know tacos in this region of the world are on the small side and we went back for another plate of the juicy deliciousness.

The rest of our little group stood by with a mild look of horror, apparently they were not as emboldened by Juan’s words as we were but they were the ones missing out, it was a fantastic experience and we were not struck down with parasites.

The rest of our two week trip through Mexico, Guatemala and Belize involved eating in open air road-side eateries and little family run cafes. Ceviche, tacos, enchiladas, huevos rancheros, burritos, mole sauce all of the wonderful Central/ South American specialties were all dished up to us, the cuisine was surprisingly un-spicy, a feature that distinguishes the food in the Yucatan area of Mexico but dishes were often accompanied with a hot side sauce along the lines of pico de gallo.

There were some surprises too, strangely enough the best Pesto Pasta I have ever eaten was on the menu just outside of Tikal, Guatemala in a house/restaurant owned by a local man which had an amazing view over a beautiful little lake. I also had an epic Long Island Iced Tea large enough to swim in in Antigua, Guatemala.

It was a turning point in my psyche, whilst I can’t go back to all of the great countries where I missed out on the delights of street food,  I at least know that going forward fear won’t prevent me from missing out on the most cultural of food experiences one can have whilst travelling.

So in order to quell my terrible regrets on all the street fare I have missed out on in my past travels I will be in the kitchen making some street food delights. Check back soon for some great world street food adventures starting with...Argentinian Empanadas!!

The locals know how to party in Merida

Dancing in the Streets

Street Food, my new friend

Tacos, Tamales, Empanadas, Tortas all the favoutires

Roadside cafes are great to take a break in when you are travelling my road in Mexico

Originally posted on Wednesday, 10 September 2014 by

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