Street Food (r)evolution, and the common characteristics that transcend time and place
The age-old street food values we still experience to this day.
With the infinite methods and styles of offerings that represent the diverse street food culture of the here-and-now, today’s concept of street food is experimental, upbeat and increasingly high-end - one which is moving ever-further from its origins in impoverishment. In fact, the sheer foodie force of cutting-edge food entrepreneurs, teamed with long-established brands and culinary professionals, has ensured we are continually in the midst of what everyone refers to as a street food revolution.
But here's the thing. The word 'revolution' denotes a fixed period of time, yet the millennia behind the street food concept ensures it will always have a place in our past, present and future. So it's really street food EVOLUTION we're observing - because it will never end, it will only evolve.
Past or present-day, there are three common characteristics of street food culture that transcend time and place:
Street food culture across the world stems from a place of poverty, and poverty is a well-known driving force for ideas and innovation. From hardship springs expertise in improvisation.
From both a culinary and experiential perspective, it means ingenuity - being as creative as possible with limited ingredients and unplanned combinations; developing skills at conjuring up or improving something from whatever is available. This applies just as much to the presentation, such as the hand-painted signs, carts with bicycle wheels, tin can lanterns we relate to the street food vibe.
Of equal importance is conviviality: crowds of people; open communal spaces; impromptu tastings; conversations with strangers sparked over shared experiences - the ultimate party with no pretensions.
Street food is to dining what football (at its purest) is to sport - a collective passion and a great leveller that overcomes money, language and borders. It's uplifting and inclusive. So stay at home with your street food ready meals if you will... but if you’re not inviting your neighbours, you’re missing the point.
Street food is about experimentation, art, theatre, deftness and poetry combined - giving us windows into diverse food cultures where the action never stops.
We associate street food with a sort of infectious festival energy; grabbing quick, convenient eats; and joining great rolling crowds, gathering up unsuspecting passersby into a non-stop conga line, bringing out the best vibes from all. Just writing the words 'Rio Carnaval' sets the hips a-sway.
And not forgetting the pace of the cooking itself - take the street food stalls in Mexico, for example, renowned to be fast and furious, usually surrounded by crowds of people attracted by the aroma of cooking and the skill of the vendors which is famously exceptional.
All three qualities illustrate that street food culture expands far beyond the food itself; it's about people, and how they think and feel. Not only that:
Its spontaneity and quick set-up has created opportunities and test-beds for entrepreneurs.
Its improvisatory approach has encouraged waste reduction, reuse and ingenuity.
The global food adventures on offer have brought people and cultures together.
Its accessibility and use of shared spaces and a relaxed community have led to urban markets overtaking pubs and nightclubs.
Embedded in core values, street food has the flexibility to reflect society at the time, and in our time, it has aligned with a societal hunger for a better way of life, rallying an enthusiastic parade of open-minded, jovial foodie folk who hold simplicity, conviviality and good energy as values in both food and in life.
And that's fascinating. After all, it's a small world. We are all neighbours. And this amicable and progressive mindset is right up our street.