Street food has been around for as long as mankind has needed to walk to work and travellers started selling their wares in side streets. Once a necessity, street eats are now a part of our culinary landscape, with a delicious alphabet of inspiration now on hand, from Athens to Zimbabwe, we look beyond the classics to tasty new morsels.
But converting street eats into bar food and pub and club snacks means more than it just being a holdable treat. Today’s patrons demand a satisfying mini-meal beyond hot chips, dips and chicken wings. Think of how you can apply some of these global eating ideas to your own situation, using dishes that can be pre-prepared, that work in high turnover situations, are good companions for a drink and are easy to eat standing at the bar.
If you are looking for a bready, salty, moreish snack then it is hard to go past the boiled-then-baked street bread, be it sesame-covered Greek koulouri, the Turkish version called a simit, or a New Yorker-style bagel which can be found as starters or bar snacks in inner ‘burbs of Sydney and Melbourne.
Kioftedes, a classic Greek beef meatball, served with creamy tzatziki sauce and pita bread has been reinvented and can now be found on a pillowy soft white roll, while the lamb kofte is the Middle East version of kioftedes, and can also be made with beef, pork or chicken.
In Turkey, the real “kabop” is a street eat of marinated meat, sliced from an inverted cone and cooked over a rotisserie, then wrapped in pillowy flatbread. While at the sweet end of the scale the Greeks also gave us loukoumades, fried dough balls dripping in honey and spiced with cinnamon, which are also on the menu at popular Greek restaurants around town.
While the Palestinians love their camel meat-filled sambusak, the equivalent pastry on the street food of the Americas or Spain is the empanada, a popular starter or snack in any South American themed bar, while the English among us love a pork pie on a small bites menu.
Moving across to Asia, mainland Chinese love their steamed dumplings and bao which are the hot go-to snacks in many pubs and clubs right now. In South East Asia commuters have no shortage of options, from charcoal chicken skewers sold around the subway stops of Bangkok, to the hawker stalls of Singapore, and they make for easy, one-handed entrees.
For a chilli hit, there are various versions of the Malay or Thai sambal, usually a spicy hot paste with rice and various other condiments served in a banana leaf parcel packed with rice, peanuts and dried anchovy, which is not uncommon in Australia’s on-trend pan-Asian casual restaurants and bars. In Malaysia they offer roti canai, an Indian-influenced bread served with an array of curry sauces, modern versions of which are making their way onto menus here.
Also be ready for the rise of street eats – from Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata – where food is also a spectacle and vegetarian inspiration can be found in pav bhaji, a thick and tasty gravy served on a super soft buttery bread roll. One Sydney pop-up restaurant which started serving Sri Lankan string hoppers, thin bowl-shaped rice flour and coconut milk pancakes, filled with savoury or sweet ingredients, has now found a permanent home.
In the Americas, one of the easiest and best eating street dish is ceviche, prawns or sliced fish, marinated in lime juice and chilli and best consumed with a cerveza in the other hand. We might call it kingfish carpaccio.
So there is no need to go halfway around the globe to get inspiration for the best in bar food, it’s served up right here in a venue near you. Start recipe collecting today and experiment with street-smart treats that work for your menu.