Street Food for Thought
If there is one thing that I have learned from living abroad is that the vendor cart system aka “street food” is one of the best ways for a city to prosper. These carts perpetuate a cycle of revenue for the city, they encourage entrepreneurship and they are a prime example of a city’s need to display its culture for the masses. Unfortunately, my great home city of Chicago has been making it increasingly difficult for people with Vendor carts to thrive and succeed for years! My experience with street food has led me to believe that my beloved hometown is making a grave mistake.
First, I would like to point out that street food tends to be amazingly cheap. In China and Thailand in particular I have had full fattening meals that total less than three US dollars. And the vendors know their price points. They charge just enough that you will never think about going to a restaurant, yet charge enough to support their families on that income. Granted there were a lot of instances where you can tell the family uses the cart as some form of a second job, it is still a great way to support the family and doesn’t inconvenience the customer. Second, the food tastes amazing. There is no fear of flavors, spices, taste or anything of that nature. What you see is what you get and while people are sometimes afraid of the way street food looks, I say you have to be bold and just go for it unapologetically. If you’ve already ventured out into a new part of the world, then live the experience 100% and embrace its food (if you aren’t allergic, that is). In restaurants, it has been my experience that some will attempt to westernize their aesthetics and food to appeal to the western traveler. Street food does none of that. It is for the people and you have the choice of being one of the people. It does not change to fit your needs. While everything isn’t for everybody, I can firmly say that street food is one of my favorite reasons to travel.
Finally, street food no matter where it is, is culture in edible form. I think there is no better way to looked at how a country functions other than seeing its street food in action. The way crowds of people line up in single file to get one small item around a vendor cart. The way a vendor cart that is operated by two people can churn out hundreds if not thousands of food items for just half a workday without rest. You will experience the truth about how a country flows, how they treat their food, how they treat their people, and how people treat the people who serve them food by looking at street food. So when you venture abroad I sincerely hope that you venture forth to street food and give it an honest effort.