Gastronomic travellers, listen up. If you’re looking for inspiration ahead of your next overseas jaunt, The World’s Best Street Food by Lonely Planet should stoke your appetite. It’s compiled by food writers from around the world and has an introduction by British food journalist Tom Parker Bowles who sets the stage for 100 recipes for “the most democratic food in the world”.
From Jamaican jerked pork, to Argentinian choripan – “a killer combination” of chorizo and French bread, and Mexican tomales, this book takes the reader on a global tour of roadside kitchens and kerbside takeaways without leaving the comfort of their kitchen.
I recently returned from a trip to Myanmar (Burma) and have been hankering for mohinga, an aromatic noodle soup, that I was introduced to by a young monk who befriended me at Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon (Rangoon). I was ecstatic when I found the recipe for this quintessential Burmese dish in the Lonely Planet book.
The flavours were spot-on: subtle fishiness from the fish stock base, earthiness from roasted shrimp paste, a spike of red chilli, and aromatics from fresh coriander, lemongrass and ginger. It was deep yellow from fresh turmeric and balanced texturally with just-cooked rice noodles and fried onions that were sprinkled on top. A splash of lime juice added a tart note that played to the overall balance of the dish. One slurp and I was transported back to the night noodle stand and my 50-cent bowl of noodles.
I had to fiddle with the recipe’s measurements, however. The thickening agents – 50g of gram flour and 50g of rice flour – were far too great for the quantity of stock called for in the recipe. I found myself having to triple the amount of stock required. On a second attempt I reduced the quantity of the flours to 10g each, which created a soupy consistency I remembered from my own Burmese days. When I added the dried noodles, however, they absorbed much of the excess liquid as they cooked. On a third attempt, I used half the amount of noodles and soaked them in boiling water first, before adding them to the soup. I halved the amount of shrimp paste, but kept all other measurements the same. Bingo. I had the perfect bowl of mohinga.
This street food bible is very Lonely Planet in style. Symbols are used to advise if dishes are easy, medium or complex, if they should be eaten by hand, with cutlery, or chopsticks, and if they’re spicy or vegetarian. It’s a nice touch.
A superb glossary guides the reader through a quagmire of unusual ingredients, from acain – a grape-like fruit native to Central and South America, to zapello squash – an enormous type of pumpkin. Substitute ingredients are often offered.
The dough recipe for pizza al taglio – a rectangular piece of pizza in the Roman style – yielded a marvellously chewy base to which we added our favourite topping: salami and mozzarella. Felafel were heady with garlic, fresh coriander, cumin and paprika, and had perfect chickpea nuttiness. Yangrou chuan, bite-sized pieces of lamb that are skewered, smothered in oil, then smeared in cumin and chilli powder were pocket-rockets of palate-scorching spiciness. Personal taste dictates that I’ll tone down the quantity of spice used next time.
Each recipe is accompanied by photographs and four boxes of information that describe the dish, explains where to find it, explores its the origin, and its taste. The two-page format for each recipe is informative and easy to read.
All up, The World’s Best Street Food is a colourful compendium of some of the world’s most iconic street snacks. It’s a welcome stop-gap for gastronomic globetrotters who are contemplating their next adventure.
Lonely Planet: The World’s Best Street Food
Banana stems look like fibrous white leeks and taste very similar to the fruit. If you’re unable to find them in Asian grocery stores, try substituting water chestnuts. To prepare the rice, toss in a heated pan until the grains are browned and slightly burnt (but not stuck to the pan) and crush using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. The amount of gram flour can also be doubled in place of the toasted rice.
1 tbs vegetable or canola oil
1 onion, finely diced
1 tsp ginger, crushed
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbs shrimp paste
2 red chillies, chopped
60g (2oz) banana stem, sliced thinly
2 stalks of lemongrass, sliced thinly
3 cups fish stock
50g (1.8oz) gram flour
50g (1.8oz) rice, toasted and ground
500g (1lb) dried thin rice noodles
200g (7oz) firm white fish, such as haddock, pollack or sea bass, sliced lime wedges, fried onions, extra chopped chillies and fresh coriander leaves (cilantro) to serve
1. Heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the onion, ginger, turmeric, shrimp paste, chillies, banana stem and lemongrass until the onion has softened.
2. Add the stock and whisk in the gram flour and toasted rice.
Simmer for approximately 15 minutes until the soup has thickened.
3. Add the rice noodles and continue simmering until the noodles are cooked.
4. Add the fish and cook for a further five minutes.
5. Serve immediately with a wedge of lime and garnished with fried onions, chopped chillies and coriander leaves.
This is an extract from The World’s Best Street Food by Tom Parker Bowles, et al. © Lonely Planet 2012. Published March, RRP: $29.99, lonelyplanet.com.