What Is Street Food?
Updated: Sep 5, 2019
Fresh food, cooked in the open and served from hip looking food trucks and street food stalls
The street food revolution is in full swing and is now a big part of our food culture.
But many may be thinking, "What is Street Food?" Well, street food is simply the practice of cooking and serving any type of fresh food, drink or dessert from a converted food truck, food cart, food stall for immediate consumption.
However, there is a bit more to it so in this article I will give you a run down of what is street food, some fun facts, different types of street food and why it has become so popular.
History of street food
The practice of cooking food on the street has gone back thousands of years and pretty much all cultures have done it at one time or another. From the ancient Greeks and Romans, where you could buy chickpea soup to Cairo and Turkey in the 1500's where people ate kebabs brought from food vendors at the side of the road.
Fast forward to the nineteenth century street food vendors can be found in Transylvania selling fried meats and french fries in Paris. However in modern history it is South-East Asian, partially Thailand, that most people associate street food with and it is easy to see why.
Street food in Thailand is embedded in the culture and is absolutely everywhere. Whole generations of family members from small children to the grandparents can be seen on food stalls cooking fresh prawn pad thai, seafood omelette or mango sticky rice. And that is just a few dishes among the hundreds you can find from food vendors all across Thailand.
What is street food today?
It is this street food culture in South-East Asian that arguably had the biggest influence on the street food scene we now see today in the west, in countries like the US & UK especially.
Street food has been gaining popularity over recent years and street eating can now be found at food markets, food and music festivals, warehouses, office complexes and food hall's within retail outlets - basically anywhere you can think of that is a large open area.
But like many practices we take from other cultures with tend to take it to the next level in the West. Yes sure it is still about the tasty and interesting foods on offer, but it is also about the presentation and how its sold.
Street food is now a very hip affair with food vendors serving their food from all sorts of creative mediums. You will see anything from grilled cheese sandwiches being sold from a converted horse box; gourmet burgers served from and old Citroen H van; to very large food trucks selling tacos that have been kitted out with all the mods and cons you would expect from a restaurant (any sometimes just as expensive).
Councils and local authorities are also realizing that street food is a cheap way to regenerate local communities. High streets and retail in general is seeing a marked decline and many bricks and mortar shops are struggling to keep their head above water. Food markets is therefore a viable alternate.
"There are 20,000 food vendors in Bangkok alone"
Facts about street food
There are 20,000 food vendors in Bangkok alone
2.5 billion people around the world eat street food everyday
Street food is so cheap in Bangkok that property developers are now building smaller kitchens because most people eat out
Eating on the street is considered rude on some cultures, like Japan (ref)
In some regions women make up 70-90% of food vendors
Popular types of street food
Pretty much any type of food or drink you can think of that can be prepared in a kitchen or at home is sold on the streets by food vendors from all around the world. In Southeast Asia you tend to get mainly local and regional dishes like pad Thai or mango sticky rice. However in the UK and US the story is very different and there is much more variety on offer.
Some popular street foods include:
Burgers & hot dogs
Ice cream rolls
Ice cream rolls
Wood fired pizza
Pies & pasties
Why is street food so popular?
Street food has been growing in popularity in recent years and there is probably now a least a couple in you local area. Some of you may be asking, therefore, why is street food now so popular? Well aside from the great taste and awesome variety street food offers, there are also a few other reasons why it is now so popular.
Its cheaper than restaurant food
It is significantly cheaper to eat from a food truck, stall or vendor than it is from a restaurant or sometimes even at home. For example, new properties are now being built with smaller kitchens in Bangkok because most people eat out as the street food is so cheap.
It pretty much fast food (without the negative connotations) and the perfect grab and good product. If you are in a rush you can get your food cooked and ready to take away in minutes.
Street food was made for outdoor events
In the summer think of the amount of music festivals, sporting events and summer fayres that go on (the list goes on). Street food comes hand in hand with these outdoor events (you ever been to one of these events and not seen food trucks?)
Need to feed a work force in a area with poor infrustartue? Want to feed the thousands of revelers at a festival? Or even add something a bit different to the local high street? Street food is designed to be mobile and can move from kerbside one day and a field on the next.
The food is cooked in front on you
There is nothing more satisfying than seeing your food cooked in front of you. You know its fresh and exactly what has gone into it. No hidden nasty's.
Street food is social
Food brings people together and there is probably nothing more social than groups of people eating food on the street at a food market or in a field from a food truck at a music festival.
The sheer variety
As mentioned street food especially in the US and UK is very diverse and you can get pretty much any type of food from around the world. And because the food from food trucks and vendors is relatively cheap you can get to try a few different options, in some places for under £15/$13.
"Street food is so cheap in Bangkok that property developers are now building smaller kitchens because most people eat out"
Just a trend or here to stay?
Food is something that never goes out of fashion and well, we all need to eat right? Street food, food trucks, food stalls, whatever you want to call it has been growing in popularity in the US and UK year on year for over the last decade now and does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
A report from google trends for the search term "street food" in the UK shows a steady rise in volume from 2010 to the present.
In the US the increase in the search term for "street food" bagan further back than the UK, in 2004 and has been steadily rising every since.
Sure food trends do change over time, but they do take a while to shift and are often embedded in the local or regional culture. The street food revolution in the UK and US has only started to take off and I predict the trend with are seeing will increase or stay fairly constant at the very least over the short to medium term.
Street food is nothing new and has been practiced by different cultures for thousands of years. It is the simple practice of cooking and serving food or drinks in the street from a mobile structure.
Despite the basic principle of street cooking still being the same we are now, however, in a era of street food 2.0. Food vendors are serving their delicacies from all sort of creative looking food truck, food carts and stalls making a bit more than just about the food.
The driver of this rise in popularity of street food is partly due to its cost, variety, convenience and the social aspect of outdoor street eating in general. And this popularity doesn't seem to subsiding anytime soon.
As long as people need to eat and love the outdoors there will be a continual demand for street food.
And as bricks and mortar businesses struggle with high rents rates and local governments seek to regenerate area more people are likely to start these types of businesses.
Will street food or food halls become the new norm?
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