An estimated 2.6 billion people worldwide eat street food every day. Once associated with developing countries, street food has spread around the globe, particularly in the United States, where a variety of food trucks, top chefs, and trendy pop-up restaurants specialize in grab-and-go fare. Featuring the world’s leading food historians, Street Food provides a detailed look at vendor culture, fun facts, and illuminating statistics, as well as some historical and environmental background on specific foods.
Learn more from Colleen Taylor Sen and Bruce Kraig, the editors of Street Food!
When did you first become interested in street food?
Colleen Taylor Sen: My specialty is South Asia, and street food is an integral part of foodways here. I’ve been enjoying Indian street food since my first visit in the early 1970s and have even made a video about my experience.
Bruce Kraig: I have loved street food since I was a small child living in New York City, where hot dog carts were everywhere and Coney Island was a mecca. You’ll see that in the book’s sections on fairs. Spending time in Mexico and Central America gave me insights into what street food meant to the vendors and, of course, what better way to learn than by eating wonderful food?
What country’s street food was your favorite to research?
CTS: I’m originally from Canada but haven’t lived there in decades, so I was very interested to learn about the street food situation in my home country. I found that it varies enormously depending on the city and the political climate there.
BK: I’ve spent more time in Mexico than other places, but I also found China fascinating. The variety of foods coming from the different regions of the country is amazing.
Have you traveled to any of the countries in the book to taste the street food there? What was your favorite place to visit?
CTS: India, of course, which is my favorite, but I’ve also traveled in Southeast Asia.
BK: Yes, I’ve been all over Europe, Mexico, East Africa, China, Korea, the Middle East and others. All considered, Mexico is still my favorite place. Each region’s local culture is different and so is the food that street vendors and home cooks—often the same people—make. On the other hand, my favorite places to research are hot dog stands everywhere!
Why do you think street food has become so popular in the United States?
CTS: It’s convenient and a great alternative to the standard fast food fare, and often, it’s more exciting and authentic than food served in brick and mortar restaurants.
BK: I agree with Colleen. It’s convenient and more exciting because it’s often more innovative: food trucks are frequently used as test kitchens for ethnic food mashups. Besides, everything tastes better eaten in the open air. Really.
What do you think the future of street food is?
CTS: In North America, it will depend on politics. Some cities (Portland, Austin) have liberal regulations, which promote the growth of street food; others are more restrictive, which inhibits it.
BK: As Colleen says, that depends on local politics. Some cities restrict street vendors so severely that they cannot exist. Other places welcome them—it’s the difference between Chicago and Portland. Thankfully, Chicago is changing. Street food is growing because of economic conditions and because younger people are much more interested in it than older ones.
What’s next for you?
CTS: Bruce and I are coeditors (with Carol Haddix) of The Chicago Food Encyclopedia, which will be published by University of Illinois Press this spring. My next project will be The Great Indian Breakfast Book, exploring one of the least known aspects of South Asian food (Many of the dishes are also popular street foods).
BK: My book on American food history, A Rich and Fertile Land, will be published this fall by Reaktion Press (UK). I’m editing a book series on food for the University of Illinois Press and working on a project to collect and digitize historical cookery manuscripts. I am also contracted to write a book about historical American test kitchens and home economists.