Falafel - © radiogastronomy.com

Street Food Discoveries: Most Pop Street Foods In The World?

Boy, oh boy! Did I ever uncork a genie when I went looking for the ‘most popular’ street foods! I got many more Google hits than I could possibly process in a lifetime. And no two agreed on the answer to that seemingly innocent question…

Doner - © worldtravelconnector.comClassic Turkish Doner: Must use Mutton  or Lamb!

Here’s the flip side of this coin: It seems mine was one of the most popular street food queries folks make to Google! That indicates to me that many folks are not satisfied by the best answer Google can provide.

Gosh! I wish there was some way to have Google perform a mammoth data mining operation taking into account every mention of ‘street food’ in it’s unexcelled data banks, and come up with a real, meaningful answer. But I fear it would turn out like the search for the answer to ‘the ultimate question’ (of life, the universe and everything) in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. After cogitating for 7.5 million years, the galaxy’s most powerful computer produces a startling answer: ’42’.

When the humans in  charge of the project express exasperation to the machine, it suggests, if you want what you consider a suitable answer, you have to post the question in a suitable way. Definitely not going there today. Or any time in the next 7.5 million years.

However, I was able to isolate a manageable collection of query returns that gave me a place to start…

On our menu today

1. Pizza:

No surprise here, really. Since it came to the U.S., it’s been a runaway favourite there. And, since most countries have some sort of indigenous flatbread, it’s been a sort hop from there to topping it with cheese, tomato product and local meats and veggies. Pizza is also a surperb grab-and-go concept which you can usually manage with one hand.

Award-Winning Pizza Magarita - © Johnny Di Francesco - 400 Gradi

Pizzareipes.org has compiled what it claims is the largest, most comprehensive list of pizzas from around the world.

But it’s the iconic Italian styles that always top the menu: Margarita, Marinara, Quattro Stagioni (4 Seasons), Quattro Formaggi (4 Cheeses), and Siciliana (AKA ‘sfincione‘, or thick sponge. Think Foccacia.)

2. Doner Kebab:

Doner Kebab hails from Turkey and has emigrated to dozens of countries around the world. It’s another classic take-with configuration, simply constructed of ‘marinated and vertically grilled mutton or lamb (sometimes beef or chicken) meat, lettuce, slices of tomatoes, and onions’. It’s one-hand carry-enabled by putting all that stuff in a horizontally sliced Pide roll and wrapped in greaseproof paper.

Outside of Turkey, Doner comes in just about any meat you can imagine (chicken and Beef being popular in the western world). Toppings also proliferate as you get farther from the Doner’s home. But to be a true Doner, you have to stick with he original bread and toppings.

3 Hamburger:

What more can we say about the Hamburger? It’s an American classic that’s caught the rest of the world’s fancy. Though the ground meat patty can trace its origins back to various European locales, the Hamburger as we know it is classically American.

Contermporary Classic Burger - © Burger KingA Classic Contemporary Hamburger: With all the top-rated toppings…

Other countries have indigenous meat-on-a-bun dishes, but none is quite a real hamburger. You can get Burgers today with almost any topping you want. But the top classic toppings remain: cheese (74 percent), ketchup (65 percent), lettuce (64percent), tomatoes (58 percent), onions (57 percent), pickles (54 percent), and mustard (52 percent) bacon (45 percent), mayo/aioli (43 percent), mushrooms (23 percent), and fries (20 percent) on their burgers.

It’s estimated that more than 50 billion Hamburgers are sold around the world per year. That includes about 2.36 billion bagged by McDonald’s, by far the largest single source.

4. Falafel:

Falafel (see photo, top of page) was largely unknown in the rest of the world, except for cultural enclaves in large cites, until about 15 years ago. Folks generally equate this dish with Lebanon and its neighbours. It’s simply ground chickpeas or fava beans mixed with traditional herbs and spices, formed into balls or patties and deep fried. Oven-baked and pan-fried variants are also traditional.

Chief among the herbs and spices employed are garlic, cilantro, onions, green Serrano chilis, cumin and cardamon.

You get several per order, and a with Tahini Sauce for topping or dipping. Dipping works best on the run, as you normally eat Falafel with our fingers.

5. Gyros:

The Greek convention that claims Doner and Shawarma as cousins twice-removed. It differs from Doner in that’s traditionally made from pork and/or chicken.

Gyros - © culinaryhill.com

Like its cousins, Gyros meat is grilled on a vertical rotisserie and sliced off in thin pieces as needed. Authentic Gyros are dressed with tomato, onion, fried potatoes, and tzatziki sauce, rolled or stuffed into fresh warm Pita bread.

It’s a little known fact that Gyros developed from Doners following World War II, when Doner kebab made with lamb was present in Athens, introduced by immigrants from Anatolia and the Middle East. During that time, there was a massive population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Literally a modern classic!

6. Hummus:

Cooked, mashed chickpeas or fava beans are mixed with tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and garlic. Simple dimple! This dip/topping/snack condiment is a favourite across the Middle East and crops up in street food neighbourhoods and restaurants around the world. What more can we say?

Brutal choices

I was hard to limit this post to just 6 dishes. But we wanted to present the crème de la crème of the most popular street foods, illustrating how these dishes have originated around the world and ultimately conquered it. Heck, we didin’t even get into Africa or Asia! We also wanted to demonstrate how different cuisines have adapted foods to be carried in, and eaten from the hands – an absolute requirement, in my book, to be qualified as true street food!

~ Maggie J.