Week 2: Street Food
Food is an integral part of any culture. It brings people together and can be a defining characteristic within a society. While fancy restaurants are nice, and home cooked meals are even better, there is something satisfying about finding a vendor on the street selling a local delicacy or cuisine from around the world. Most places have street vendors, even Hamilton, NY if you wander around in the summer. Tell us about your experiences with street food while you’ve been away. Did you find any foods that surprised you? Did anything remind you of home? Did you push yourself to try something new that seemed interesting? Where were these vendors that you saw?
Even though it’s winter, I have seen many outdoor markets in the Geneva area in the past month. I’ve shopped at a small, impromptu-looking Saturday morning fruit and vegetable market by the train station. The setup felt “authentic”, with the farmers who come mainly from France standing behind their products. This small farmer’s market and all its colorful produce stood out from the rest of the shops in the area as the only case where the sellers could also be the farmers or producers.
My friends and I also crossed over the border into France for a larger outdoor market selling food and clothes. Though I liked the lunch and produce I bought there, my mindset toward the market changed when my friend pointed out the supermarket stickers on a box of oranges. I think I had previously assumed that whenever food products are sold in an outdoor market, the people selling them must have also grown or made them. The Ferney-Voltaire market taught me that this is not always the case.
At an open public space here in Geneva, there are flea markets and farmers’ markets throughout the week. As I gain more confidence in my French, I hope to start conversations with the sellers. Instead of trying to guess from the other side of our language barrier, I can ask them about the origins of the products they’re selling.
As a side note, when I was younger I thought there were only two variations of cheese: feta, and a hard yellow cheese called kaçkavall. Then, I saw that there were so many other types out there! Since Switzerland is known for its cheese, my goal is to try different regional cheeses and find a new one that I really like. I’ll keep you posted!
I definitely was expecting a lot more street food in Nepal than there actually was. However, there was one noticeable food that I found throughout my travels in Nepal from Pokhara to the Gorkha District to my street in Boudha. All around town are the carts with big glass containers that are filled with round puff looking things. My first experience with it was upon my arrival to my host family’s house. On one of our daily walks around the stupa, my amala and Tenzin took me to a cart where the person making them just kept piling them on a plate. It was a race against time to finish the one snack before the next one was made. It had a surprising taste that was both sweet, spicy, and salty all at the same time. The snack is made from a puri (a hollow fried crisp) and filled with a mix of flavored water, tamarind sauce, chili, potato, onion, chaat masala, and chickpea.
A few days later on another daily walk, I asked Amala when we could get some more “ani oori”. Much to my surprise she yelped loudly and quickly pulled me away where her and Tenzin (my host brother) erupted in laughter. They proceeded to tell me that Ani oori means “the shaved nun”, and I had accidentally just offended the large pack of nuns that were in front of us. Oops.
In Delhi after my program in Nepal ended, I spent the day with a friend from high school where he showed me all of his favorite street food spots in the old part of the city. I don’t think I have ever been as full as I was that day as we navigated through the barreling traffic to altering sweet, salty, and spicy snacks. It could have been the best food day of my life! Thanks Angud for the tour.
Street food? Ay lad, there was really no such thing as street food in Edinburgh (read the preceding statement in traditional Scottish accent, please), especially as winter dawned and the hours of daylight shortened. While I was not in Scotland during the spring and summer, I predict that street vendors would have been much more common there, especially during the Edinburgh festival (as indicated here: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-39860582); yet in the fall and in the chilly winter, impending darkness, northern rains, and snow dustings did not provide a welcoming or profitable environment for most street vendors.
That said, there did exist one location where bustling street vendors gathered and profited—the main campus of the University of Edinburgh at George Square. Naturally, this location was modeled after the shape of a square, with gardens situated in the center and academic buildings lining the periphery. At each corner of this square, two to three vendors situated themselves and employed music, signage, and odor to market their goods to students. Among these vendors were those who served coffee-related drinks (black coffee, cappuccinos, lattes, etc), soup-related appetizers, a variety of sandwiches, and fast-food related “meals,” including hot dogs, burgers, fries, and soft drinks. While these vendors made an effort to entice me, I did not sample any of their products. Thus, this was a similar experience to home in Montana, where seeing a spontaneous street vendor (weekly farmer’s markets aside) was as unlikely as seeing one in the area of Edinburgh that I was in (George Square aside).
While my experience with street food was limited, there were other types of (Scottish) cuisine which I sampled at various restaurants and shops. For example, Indian cuisine has a special place in my diet, so about every week, I ventured into a novel Indian restaurant to sample the food, often ordering a similar dish so I could compare differences in taste, texture, and arrangement. A traditional Scottish delicacy which I had the opportunity to consume was Haggis, a Scottish dish consisting of a sheep’s or calf’s intestine mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag, traditionally one made from the animal’s stomach. While the conceptual impression of eating this food at first was foreign, I quickly appreciated the rich flavor and delicate smoothness of this dish.
Finally, there were a number trends I observed between food at the grocery stores in Scotland and cuisine at grocery stores in the United States. For example, stores in the United States typically have more detailed labels; something such as “raisin bread” here would be referred to as “fruit loaf,” leaving the consumer to wonder, “Okay, but what type of fruit is in the loaf?” Furthermore, “Caesar dressing” here was referred to as “table sauce” there, leaving the buyer to ponder, “Okay, but what is the actual flavor of this condiment?” The portions in the marketplaces in Scotland were also noticeable smaller, encouraging people to consume less, reflecting the Scottish and EU values of environmental awareness. This was showcased to a further degree by the practice of most stores to charge for using plastic bags, whereas those very thin but weirdly strong bags here are available without restriction. Thus, while the food storage and labeling practices did differ between the United States and Scotland, most of the food items themselves—whether from a scarce street vendor or a marketplace—were quite similar to what a consumer might find in the United States.