Top Street Food Recipes
For World Casual Diners
Written by Hinnerk von Bargen, The Culinary Institute of America
Recipe Photography by Francesco Tonelli
During medieval times, street food was sold at fairs, tournaments, and other large gatherings throughout settlements and cities. Peddlers used pushcarts to sell stews, porridges, and baked goods. Over time, food became more sophisticated, and with the onset of industrialization came the need to safely cater to the rapidly growing population of the expanding cities, giving rise to today’s strict food-safety regulations.
In many cultures, settlements have commonly been built around a communal cooking place. In European villages of the past, this would have been a large brick oven. When the baker finished baking his bread, the residents would use the residual heat of this public oven to cook their stews or bake their cakes. Many traditional dishes have their origins in these collective kitchens. Bäckeoffe, literally translated as baker’s oven, is an Alsatian meat stew cooked in an earthenware dish with a tight-fitting lid. Traditionally, the lid is sealed with bread dough before baking to retain as much of the moisture as possible. In Brazilian cuisine, a similar technique is applied to a dish known as barreado, a meat and vegetable stew cooked slowly for up to 15 hours in a clay pot sealed with a manioc paste. The word chowder is derived from “cauldron,” a big metal pot used to cook large amounts of soup or stew for a crowd.
Communal cooking and eating arrangements are still common practice in many less-developed regions. Helping to use resources effectively, such shared kitchens also serve as a meeting place and provide opportunities for the villagers to socialize, enjoy some small talk, and exchange news.
Collective kitchens and canteens have even been part of political movements. During China’s Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, some local governments called for the dismantling and elimination of all household kitchens. All meals for the residents of the towns or villages would be catered at public commons. The objective was to create a more proficiently working food supply, as well as to boost the nation’s steel production by melting all iron and steel gathered from the kitchens. Even though the initiative was abandoned very quickly, this segment of Chinese history left a distinct mark on the country’s culinary landscape. Today known as Revolutionary Cuisine, this style, featuring dishes and recipes prepared with the simplest ingredients and methods, is looked back upon with some sense of nostalgia.
Our universal desire to explore and conquer has also contributed to the development and evolution of mobile catering. In military field-mess units or on ships, crowds of hungry soldiers, warriors, and sailors had to be fed with the simplest means. Over time, this food has evolved from a lucky meal of a freshly killed animal cooked over an open fire to nourishing rations prepared in well-equipped mobile field kitchens.
Today’s variety of street food has expanded immensely; a pulled pork sandwich might be served in a steamed bun and feature Chinese BBQ. Crispy sliced French bread is offered with a variety of toppings as “bruschetta to go.” And in an effort to combine good food with a show, a rendition of macaroni and cheese is browned with a massive blowtorch. The gloves are off; dishes that in the past would never have been associated with street food are now common fare on food trucks. As the competition grows, vendors are coming up with increasingly creative ideas. Culinarians continue to educate themselves to keep up with the ever-shifting culinary landscape.
Street Food Is Here to Stay
The tables have turned. The business of peddling street food no longer suggests that other attempts have failed; undertaken with passion, ingenuity, and skill, it has progressed into an attractive career choice for culinary professionals and in some cases leads to a whole fleet of food trucks or a well-established storefront business.
Following are some of my favorite recipes of street food dishes from my travels around the world, as showcased in my cookbook “Street Foods.” I invite you to give them a try at home!
YIELD: 8 PORTIONS
1 lb all-purpose flour
½ tsp kosher salt
1 tbsp dry yeast
1 cup milk
2 eggs, beaten
2 fl oz melted butter
Vegetable oil, as needed,
Confectioners’ sugar, as needed, for dusting
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, yeast, milk, eggs, and butter until smooth and elastic, 2 to 3 minutes. Add more flour as needed to adjust the dough. Place the dough in a bowl with a tight-fitting lid or cover with plastic wrap and allow to proof in a warm place until it has doubled in size, about 1 hour.
2. On a well-floured surface, roll the dough to a ¼-in thickness, cut into rectangular shapes, and place on a lightly floured pan. Dust gently with flour, cover with a plastic wrap, and allow to double in size again, about 30 minutes.
3. Right before frying, stipple the dough with your fingers and gently stretch each dough sheet to 1½ times its original length.
4. Deep-fry the beignets in vegetable oil at 325°F, turning once, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, and dust generously with confectioners’ sugar. Serve.
Chef’s Note: Beignets and similar fried dough preparations are found in many culinary cultures. It is interesting to note that in France or Germany, the word beignet is oftentimes used to describe a sweet or savory preparation of a batter-fried fruit or vegetable.
YIELD: 8 PORTIONS (32 TO 40 DUMPLINGS)
1 lb 5 oz self-rising flour
14 oz water
1 lb ground pork, 80% lean
8 oz coarsely cut cilantro
1 tbsp minced ginger
1 green onion, minced
½ tsp ground white pepper
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 fl oz light soy sauce, not low-sodium
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
¼ cup cold water
1 tsp salt, or as needed
1. Combine the flour and water, and knead by hand until the mixture forms a smooth dough, 1 to 2 minutes. Reserve.
2. To make the filling, combine the ground pork, cilantro, ginger, green onion, white pepper, sesame oil, soy sauces, cold water, and salt. Cook a sample and adjust seasoning, if needed.
3. Shape the dough into a log about 2-in in diameter. Slice the log into 1-oz pieces. Roll the dough pieces into 4-in rounds that are slightly thicker in the center than around the edges.
4. To achieve the classic steamed dumpling shape, place about 1 oz stuffing onto the center of each dough circle. Fold the edges of the dough over the filling and pinch small sections of the dough in a pleated fashion to create a closed pouch around the filling. Using your hands, gently press the dumpling on a level surface to achieve an even shape and to avoid a dome-like appearance of the dumpling after steaming.
5. Lightly oil a nonstick skillet and tightly arrange the dumplings in the skillet. Add enough water to come one-third to halfway up the side of the dumplings. Cover with a tight-fitting lid, and cook over high heat until all water has evaporated and the dumplings are well browned on the bottom, 8 to 10 minutes. Once the dumplings are done cooking, transfer them from the skillet to a wire rack and allow them to rest for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve with Spicy Cucumbers.
2 lb Kirby cucumbers, peeled
Salt, as needed
1 tbsp sugar
¼ cup white vinegar
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ tsp Sichuan pepper
1 tbsp red pepper flakes
1. Cut the cucumbers into wedges about 3-in in length. Toss with the salt, sugar, and vinegar. If needed, adjust seasoning to taste. Place the sliced garlic on top but do not mix it in.
2. In a skillet, combine the oil with the Sichuan pepper and red pepper flakes. Slowly heat the oil over medium to high heat until the pepper begins to turn brown and a slight haze of smoke develops. Immediately pour the smoking hot oil through a fine-mesh strainer over the cucumber mixture.
3. Toss well. Adjust seasoning as needed. Serve in a bowl as an accompaniment.
YIELD: 8 PORTIONS
½ head cauliflower
8 large white mushrooms
Vegetable oil, as needed
1 green pepper
3½ oz chickpea flour
3½ oz all-purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp garam masala
½ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp cayenne
1 tbsp salt
Salt, as needed
Ground black pepper, as needed
8 bamboo skewers
All-purpose flour, as needed, for dredging
1. Cut the cauliflower into bite-size florets and briefly parboil over high heat until semi-tender about 30 seconds.
2. In a skillet over very high heat, saute the mushrooms in vegetable oil until slightly caramelized.
3. Cut the carrot into obliques and parboil over high heat until semi-tender, about 30 seconds.
4. Cut the zucchini lengthwise into quarters, remove the seeds, and cut into dice. Add to a skillet and saute over very high heat until slightly caramelized.
5. Cut the pepper into large dice.
6. For the batter, combine the flours, baking powder, garam masala, garlic powder, cayenne and salt in a mixing bowl. Add 1 pint water and mix until smooth.
7. Season all the vegetables with salt and pepper after they are cooked. Place one piece of each vegetable onto each skewer. Dredge the skewers in flour and shake off excess. Dip in the batter to coat completely.
8. Deep-fry at 350°F until golden brown and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain on a wire rack. Serve skewer on a plate accompanied by Cilantro-Cashew Chutney.
1 bunch cilantro, dried
1 jalapeño, stem/seeds removed
1 fl oz lemon juice
½ tsp ground cumin
½ cup plain Bulgarian yogurt
4 oz unsalted cashews
Salt, as needed
Ground black pepper, as needed
1. Combine the cilantro, jalapeño, lemon juice, cumin, and yogurt in a blender and puree to a fine paste.
2. Add the cashews and puree until smooth.
3. Add more yogurt or nuts to adjust consistency; the chutney should have the consistency of a strained yogurt or thick sour cream.
Adjust seasonings and serve.
YIELD: 8 PORTIONS
6 oz short-grain rice
14 oz husked yellow mung beans
4 green onions, finely minced
8 oz mixed seafood, cooked,
(see Chef’s Note)
4 oz finely minced red pepper
4 oz finely chopped napa cabbage
4 oz finely minced turnip kimchi
Salt, as needed
4 oz gochujang (Korean hot pepper paste)
4 oz water
4 green onions, minced
2 oz sesame seeds, toasted
1. Soak the rice and mung beans separately in cold water to cover until they have doubled in size, at least 4 hours.
2. Drain the rice and mung beans thoroughly. In a food processor, puree the rice into a fine paste, adding water as needed to facilitate the blending. Add the drained mung beans. Continue to blend until the mixture is a slightly coarse paste resembling the consistency of pancake batter, adding water as needed to adjust the consistency. Add the green onions, seafood, red pepper, cabbage, and kimchi, and adjust seasoning with salt.
3. Prepare a griddle or skillet over medium heat with a moderate amount of fat, and spread the batter into pancakes measuring 2 to 3-in in diameter and about ¼-in thick. Fry the pancakes until cooked through and golden brown on both sides, 2 to 4 minutes per side.
4. To make the dipping sauce, combine the gochujang, water, green onions, and sesame seeds.
5. Serve the pancakes with the dipping sauce.
Chef’s Notes: These pancakes, known as bin daedok in Korea, are made using a combination of falafel-making and pancake-making techniques. The seafood suggested in this recipe can be shrimp, mussels, clams, or anything similar. Optionally, the pancakes can be prepared without any seafood as a vegetarian version. It is important to use husked yellow mung beans, not the unhusked green mung beans, because the green mung beans will make the pancakes taste unpleasantly astringent. An interesting alternative to mung beans is green split peas; using them will change the pancakes’ color from a bright yellow to a striking green.
1. Combine the strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and blackberries with the wine, sugar and cinnamon stick and simmer over medium heat until the fruit starts disintegrating, 1 to 3 minutes.
2. Combine the cornstarch with a small amount of water into a slurry with the consistency of heavy cream. Add the slurry to the simmering berries and thicken to a medium to heavy viscosity. Stir liberally to avoid lumps.
3. Remove the cinnamon stick and divide the berry pudding into portion-size cups (5 to 6 oz).
4. Refrigerate and serve cold with the Vanilla Sauce.
YIELD: 8 PORTIONS
1 vanilla bean
2 cups half-and-half
4 oz sugar
4 egg yolks
1. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape out the interior, and combine with the half-and-half in a saucepan. Add half of the sugar and bring to a simmer over medium heat.
2. In a mixing bowl, combine the egg yolks and the remaining sugar with about 1 cup of the simmering half-and-half and stir well to combine thoroughly. Add this egg yolk-half-and-half mix to the simmering half-and-half in the pot, stirring constantly until the mixture reaches 180°F and becomes slightly thick, 2 to 5 minutes.
3. Immediately strain the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a metal bowl over an ice bath and cool down to 40°F. Serve well chilled, in a bowl as a condiment.
Chef’s Note: Known as rodgrod in Denmark and rote grütze in Germany, this classic Northern European dessert features mixed fresh berries cooked and thickened with cornstarch or tapioca pearls. It is traditionally served with a vanilla sauce, vanilla ice cream, or simply chilled heavy cream. During the cold winter months, hot variations of this dessert are served as an accompaniment to vanilla ice cream.