No longer an edible lowest common denominator, street food has become an important feature of a city’s gastronomic scene. There are tours focusing on street food of a particular culture or origin. The Michelin guide now covers it. Some high-end chefs have introduced pavement versions of their signature dishes. Battalions of gourmet food trucks tour some cities, their fans picking up each new location on social media. Street food is now only ‘street’ in the sense of cool. It’s where it always was, but it’s arrived.
Thanks both to its thousand-year history of Aztec food markets and its 21 million current inhabitants, Mexico City is a street food phenomenon. Vendors will take advantage of all possible means and formats, selling from bicycles and stands as well as fixed markets, and trucks. The cuisine is mostly Mexican, but not as most Europeans would recognise, with specialities including chapulines (fried grasshoppers), charcoal-baked plantains with jam and condensed milk, and tamales, a steamed corn dough containing chicken, pork, chocolate or cheese. At the Mercado de Dulces Ampudia, sweet food is also widely available, including café de olla (cinnamon coffee) and ollitas de barro, tamarind paste flavoured with sugar and chilli.
London’s street food scene exemplifies the best of old and new trading. At the city’s culinary heart is Borough Market, first established more than a thousand years ago, and now a beacon of British and global artisanal excellence. Brixton Village and Market Row – with food from Pakistan to Mexico, via China and Jamaica – is nearly as venerable, while there are diverse and excellent offerings throughout north and east London. The fast pace of recent development has created opportunities for start-up markets like KERB, behind King’s Cross Station. London also has a dynamic and highly diverse food truck scene, from Bengali via Mexican, to New Orleans.