Finding Food on the Road
A story of sumptuous street food
Personally, for me, the three most important aspects of travel are climate, culture and food.
Food is, without question, the most important. Tastes, smells and flavours are the cornerstones to an enjoyable trip. Food creates memories for me. I can still remember the smell of dried fish in Thailand, the taste of traditional gyros in Greece, Swedish beetroot salad with meatballs in Stockholm and my parents being offered mint tea in North Africa while I got Coke in a glass bottle. Curiously, Coke always tastes better from a glass bottle.
Travel in part is about discovery, from the Romans to the age of explorers such as Vasco De Gama and Christopher Columbus. They travelled to uncharted lands, explored new countries, and brought home new and exotic flavours and ingredients. This, although obviously on a smaller scale and not involving conquering lands, is not unlike modern day travel. People will travel to new countries, eat amazing new food, which is not available (or just not as good) at home, and bring back unusual sweets and flavours, sometimes for the name alone!
One of my favourite things about going to Europe as a child was crisps. As I've travelled I've realised that everywhere else in the world makes better crisps than the UK. In Europe you could get 'spaghetti bolognaise' flavour, or cheese and chive. In Asia, cuttlefish or spicy squid flavour and other more interesting flavours than cheese and onion. For the record, I'm not slandering cheese and onion; it's actually one of my favourites... it's just very English.
Anyway, as brilliant as crisps are I'm actually trying to write about street food. From fresh gyros in Greece to bits of meat on sticks in Bangkok, street food is amazing.
Street food is great because it's quick, it's cheap and it's generally pretty healthy. These are good things for impoverished backpackers. While everybody who's ever been to Bangkok has probably had mediocre Pad Thai on the Kho San road, there's so much more to be had. Two of the best things I've ever eaten came from street restaurants in northern Thailand. The absolute best snack I've ever eaten was a curried pumpkin spring roll. The balance between hot crisp pastry and rich, spicy, creamy vegetable was something akin to alchemy in a culinary sense. Well, in my opinion at least. They were so brilliant that I ate just enough for the rich pumpkin curry to make me feel quite ill.
The second best meal was from a pushcart restaurant with little plastic chairs and tables and they made the best tofu noodle soup. It was actually the best noodle soup I've eaten, ever. The balance of flavours and spices was absolutely perfect. That balance, sweet, spicy and citrus in Thai food is something that always amazes me. Thai food is the only thing that even when mediocre still makes me incredibly happy and content.
Food is, however, an incredibly subjective thing. Luckily for me there's very little I don't like in terms of ingredients. I cannot stand parsnips or sprouts, which luckily don't feature much in Asian street restaurants. Otherwise, I'll pretty much eat anything; as long as it's already dead and / or its principal ingredient is not blood.
So, my girlfriend and I are off on new adventures in the next few months. After thinking about all the awesome things I've eaten on holidays and trips, I'm setting myself a project to write about food, and more specifically street food. It's a chance to both create something for myself and Jess, my girlfriend, to look back on and have as a memory. Also, it's something I can publish on the internet for others to read if they're interested in street food or just food in general.
We're headed to Northern India, a place neither of us have been and are equal parts nervous and excited. Everybody I've spoken to has said India is a place people either love or hate. Personally I cannot wait to eat the huge variety of vegetarian curries, thalis and snacks on offer. I'll be entirely honest, I'm not relishing the prospect of vegetarianism for a month, but I'm not going to be eating meat in India as I imagine there's a fairly strong correlation between poor quality meat and the infamous 'Delhi belly'. Our main plans are to eat stuff, to check out some awesome architecture and visit Rathambore National Park to go tiger spotting.
After that we'll be headed back to South East Asia for a clockwise tour of the familiar Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia route. Jess and I have racked up several Thai trips between us but have never ventured into the neighbouring countries so hopefully it will be an excellent trip. Personally, I cannot wait to go to Vietnam as Vietnamese food I have tried has been excellent.
The next stop will be working holiday visas in Australia. Street food as such isn't quite such a phenomenon in Australia, and more specifically Sydney. So, during this period I'm going to write about street food style restaurants and general culinary culture. Sydney has a massively multicultural population due to the migration of many different nationalities. Post World War 2, Italians and Greeks arrived in large numbers, followed over the decades by Egyptians, Lebanese, Turkish and Indians to name but a few. There is also a large Asian population in Sydney. This has had a massive impact on the contemporary restaurant scene. I've eaten some fantastic food in Sydney and look forward to eating lots more.
I've also been thinking lately about things I'll miss while I'm away. One thing I'll miss is Tea. I know it's massively cliché and English to say it, but anybody who knows me will agree that I drink an unnecessary amount of tea. It's obviously not such an issue in Australia, though I am curious about Chai and the Chai Wallahs in India. I think I have to master the phrase “chini nahi” as the Indians love a sugary tea apparently.
The other thing I'll miss is cheese. Europeans are massively spoilt when it comes to cheese. Cheese in Asia is not really an integral part of the culture or diet, with the exception of paneer in India. As Australia is quite an Americanised country their cheese tends to be more of the processed variety.
Mostly, I'm just excited and looking forward to the unknown. Challenges met are experiences gained and stories to tell. I hope you enjoy the journey...
If you're interested in finding out some more information about Ben's travels then head over to his blog thehungrybackpackers.wordpress.com.
If you're a vegetarian traveller and you need to get your fill while backpacking and travelling then read Nikki Smith's guide to vegetarian travelling.
And of course, jump on the message boards and get chatting about where you can find the best street food in the world!
About the Author: Ben Turland
Ben is a tea drinking, food hunting travel fan. Since his first trip InterRailing in 2004 he has mostly been working boring jobs and dreaming about trips, or travelling. Ben has recently become a travel blogger and specifically writes about street food and assorted adventures. When not reading, or dreaming about travelling, his interests are photography, graphic design and music. His favourite places are Scandinavia, Thailand and Australia. His dream holiday trip is a food tour of Tokyo; he expects it to be one big crazy adventure with lots and lots of food...
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