It wasn’t that long ago when street foods would too often bring to mind, for many American, ambivalent associations with foreign and “underdeveloped” countries, along with trepidations about cooking hygiene and food safety.
Sure, nothing could be more American than street, fair, and festival foods such as pizza, hot dogs and corn dogs, soft pretzels, ice cream and snow cones and cotton candy. And there was even occasion for more pronouncedly ethnic or regional options. Ordinarily speaking, nonetheless, street foods tended to be seen as make-shift meals for laborers who could not attain to sit-down dining.
The pendulum has swung very far in the other direction, with fresh, local, distinctive, and mouthwateringly good now being the primary associations for street food with fashionable consumers, and especially urban and millennial hipsters. No less a trendmaker than chef-turned-cable TV star Anthony Bourdain, speaking at the inaugural World Street Food Congress 2013 in Singapore, declared street food to be “the salvation of the human race”-with most of us, after all, doing more labor than tablecloth dinners.
Packaged Facts’ Street and Grill Foods: Culinary Trend Tracking Series focuses on street and grilled foods of disparate geographic heritage: the Ecuadorian llapingacho potato and cheese mash; the Turkish half soft pretzel, half sesame bagel-like Simit; the East Asian bao filled dough buns; and charred fruits and vegetables or grilled meat skewers of multinational origins.
Packaged Facts’ report on What America Eats: Paradigms Shaping Food Choices (November 2014) notes a subtle juxtaposition: a slightly declining share of consumers who view fast food as fitting their busy lifestyle, but a slightly increasing percentage who prefer fast food over home cooking. Part of the explanation here is that the fast casual genre has helped improve the quality of fast food offerings, including internationally or regionally inspired options that aren’t easily replicated at home. This opening for quality, geographically pedigreed fast foods is only one of the ways that new street and grilled menu options can find their place at the American table.
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