The best part of street food is there are no rules or boundaries as to what it can be.
Photography & styling by MICHELLE GIORLA
After 40 years wandering the culinary landscape, it is time to find renewed inspiration as I venture into introducing a new menu concept. Creating new menus is my favorite part of the job, the chance to explore new flavors, textures, and ingredients or reimagine classic dishes in a different way. In my early days this involved gathering dog-eared copies of Gourmet or Bon Appetit magazines, clippings from the Wednesday New York Times, or going to a bookstore and searching for the latest cookbook loaded with gratuitous food porn from the latest hot shot chef—usually someone with a European accent. This was before The Food Network and before fingertip internet access. Even access to new and strange ingredients can be had with a simple swipe. This harmonic convergence of food, information, and technology has resulted in the age of the food truck and the blending of cultures.
Street food is fast, casual, and convenient. It is rarely boring. On a trip to Lisbon, Portugal with foodie friends we stumbled onto a street fair with an amazing array of foods—whole roasted pigs, platters of fried sardines, squid, and other seafood. One booth had piles of tissue paper-thin shaved presunto, Portuguese prosciutto, on pillowy soft rolls with a local cheese. Every stall was an adventure in flavor with plenty of local tinto or vinho verde to wash it down. It was the best meal of the trip.
The best part of street food is there are no rules or boundaries as to what it can be: a dirty water dog in Manhattan, an oversized salt-laden pretzel from a shopping cart as you exit the Walt Whitman Bridge in South Philly, or tacos Al Pastor from a food truck.
Tacos are the OG of street foods. The varieties are only limited by your imagination. No ground beef—leave that to that bell place. Al pastor tacos originated in Mexico, influenced by Greek and Lebanese immigrants.
The meat, usually pork, is marinated and roasted on a spit like shawarma. It is then mixed with caramelized onions and pineapple, a little shredded cabbage, salsa, and queso fresco and boom—you are in yum town. My twist on this dish is using swordfish instead of pork. Another favorite is Mexican street corn. Hot grilled corn on the cob slathered in mayo, Tajin spice, cilantro, lime, and crema, a thinner, richer sour cream. Fresh, flavorful, and fast—everything street food should be.
Corn on the cob does not translate well to a knife and fork sit-down restaurant. The flavors, however, do—so scrape the kernels off the cob, toss the ingredients together, shape it in a ring mold and now you have Instagram-worthy food porn.
Noodles in every conceivable form are popular street food in nearly every Asian country. Stir fried or with soup or chilled in a spicy sauce, the permutations are as infinite as the types of noodles: chewy slippery udon and ramen noodles from Japan, or rice or bean thread noodles from China—there is a noodle for every palate. I like using udon noodles in a chilled salad. Starchy, thick, and slippery, these noodles are made for slurping and eating noisily. Lack of pretension is the key to good street food.
From New Orleans to Saigon, the sandwich is a staple of quick eats. In New Orleans it’s the Po’boy invented by a resourceful shop owner in the early part of the 20th century during a transit strike to feed the striking workers quickly and cheaply. If you can put it between two slices of bread or on a roll, it can become a Po’Boy. The Vietnamese version, Bahn Mi is a baguette—Vietnam was once a French colony—layered with a flavored mayonnaise, grilled marinated meat, pickled vegetables, and fresh herbs. My street food mashup is to merge the two into a Poor Mi.
Street food is fast food made with love and passion without pretense. It should have a powerful impact on your palate and not your wallet. This month try these dishes inspired by flavors from around the world. Seared Scallops and Mexican Street Corn salad, Chilled Udon Noodle Salad, Fried Oyster Po’ Mi, Swordfish Tacos Al pastor, and Crawfish Beignets.
Swordfish Tacos Al Pastor
- 2 lbs swordfish, cubed
- 2 cups diced pineapple
- 2 onions, julienned
- ½ head shredded cabbage
- 1 lime
- 1 cup fresh salsa
- 1 pint canola oil
- Fish spice
- 2 Tbsp Chile powder
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp allspice
- 2 Tbsp Cajun spice
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
Mix all spices together; toss in fish, coat well.
Heat oil on medium heat in a large pot. Poach the fish in oil for 5-7 minutes in batches.
Remove fish with a slotted spoon, cool. Cover with oil. Refrigerate if not using immediately.
In a sauté pan, caramelize the onions and then pineapple.
Mix fish, onions, and pineapple; heat through.
Warm flour tortillas. To build: layer shaved cabbage, then fish mix, then top with salsa.
Serve with cilantro and lime wedge.
Mexican Street Corn Salad
- 6 ears corn grilled, then scraped from cob
- 3 Tbsp mayonnaise
- ¼ cup sour cream
- 3 Tbsp chopped cilantro
- ¼ cup diced red pepper
- 4 Tbsp cotija cheese
- 2 tsp tajin spice
Mix all ingredients. Can be served chilled or warm.
Udon Noodle Salad
- 1 lb cooked udon noodles
- 1/2 cup Thai Chile sauce
- 3 Tbsp ponzu sauce
- 3 Tbsp Sambal oleic acid
- 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
- ½ cup julienned carrots
- ¼ cup bias cut scallions
- 1 red pepper, julienned
- 3 Tbsp fish sauce
Mix well, chill, and enjoy.
Oyster Banh Mi
- 1 baguette, cut in 3 segments then split lengthwise
- 18 oysters
- ½ cup flour
- 3 eggs whisked with 4 Tbsp milk
- 1 cup panko seasoned with salt and pepper
- For the slaw
- 2 cups shredded Napa cabbage, mixed with shredded carrots, julienned red pepper, 1 bunch bias-cut scallions
- Julienned mint and cilantro to taste extra for garnish
Bread oysters, then chill. Fry for three minutes at 350 degrees.
Mix together ¼ cup sriracha and 1 cup mayonnaise.
Coat bread with mayo mix. Add slaw, then oysters.
Garnish with cilantro and mint. Top with bread, enjoy.
- 1 lb crawfish meat chopped
- 3 Tbsp chopped scallion
- 3 Tbsp. chopped red pepper
- 2 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 tsp Cajun spice
Mix, chill; set aside 2 cups flour, 1 Tbsp baking powder, and 2 tsp salt in a bowl. Mix in three eggs and ½ cup buttermilk. Fold in crawfish mix; incorporate well.
Heat oil to 345 degrees. Using a 2-oz scoop, fry for 4 minutes, turn, cook for 4 more minutes.
Drain on a paper towel and serve. ■