Street Food (R)Evolution: The 3 common characteristics that transcend time and place
With infinite methods and varieties building up to the diverse street food culture of the here-and-now, the concept of street food is experimental, upbeat and increasingly high-end - one which is moving ever-further from its primary association with poverty.
But we must always first look back to look forward, as understanding the past is the unshakeable starting point from which to conceive an authentic story.
(For if you lose track of the roots, it becomes something entirely different. NOT NECESSARILY BAD, just different. And that's a whole new story to develop.)
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 an experiential perspective, it means handmaking and upcycling - developing skills at making or improving something from whatever is available - such as the hand-painted signs, carts with bicycle wheels, tin can lanterns we relate to the street food vibe. Makeshift seating and serving spaces, rough or unfinished, and a mismatch of hand-me-down finds in utensils, plates or cookware. Just enough to create the essence of the story, without being too persnickety about it and missing the point.
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 if you will... but if you’re not inviting your neighbours, you’re missing the point.
Just writing the words 'Rio Carnaval' sets the hips a-sway - 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.
Not to mention the pace of it - 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.
But it isn’t just about producing food fast - it’s about experimentation, art, theatre, deftness and poetry combined. Giving us windows into diverse food cultures where the action never stops.
The sheer foodie force of cutting-edge food entrepreneurs, teamed with long-established brands and culinary professionals, has ensured we are in the midst of 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.
Street food culture expands far beyond the food itself; it's about people, and how they think and feel.
- 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.
Street food reflects 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.