Street food is on the rise as diners and celebrity chefs alike love its authenticity and robust flavours. There’s an emerging trend of hotel menus that are inspired by the fusion of ethnic street food and traditional fare. It’s rapidly gaining popularity thanks to help from celebrity chefs and diners who like its honesty, simplicity and intense flavours.
Last year, Fox News’ programme Chew On This reported that Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain labelled Singapore street food as “one of the hottest food trends of 2016”. Ahead of the curve, Australian Chef David Thomson brought Thai street food to high-end dining at his Singapore restaurant Long Chim, while TV chef Susan Feniger opened her South Hollywood restaurant, Street, in 2009 after being impressed by the food she had eaten on the streets of India.
Street food has been overtaking fine dining as many diners became disenchanted with nouvelle cuisine.
It’s also been a trend among hoteliers for a while and Leslie Stronach, Executive Chef at the InterContinental Bangkok, has long sung the praises of the city’s street food, as has Martin Faist at Absolute Hotel Services in the Thai capital. And a stamp of approval recognised in 2015 when Michelin launched a guide – but no stars – for Hong Kong and Macau street food.
Street food is about variety and freshness served with little fuss. But while each street hawker specialises in just one recipe, professional kitchens can deliver exotic dishes from all over the world to the buffet table. Flavours have always fused, so that Vietnamese cooking merged with French baguettes to form the banh mi (local sandwich), and today Mexican tacos can happily carry Asian spices.
It’s popular because it’s associated with fun. Travellers feel adventurous eating with local people; squatting on plastic stools by hawker carts in Hanoi with a banh mi is a badge of pride for backpackers. So when diners find good street food served up in hotel buffets, they associate it with leisure, pleasure and adventure.
Bringing street food into the spotlight, Singapore has an annual World Street Food Congress, and the UK has its own ‘Oscars’, the Street Food Awards. The Bourdain Market, named after the globe-trotting TV chef, is looking for partners and investors to bring high quality street food to New York.
Street food was designed to feed large numbers cheaply and efficiently, but it is loved by people from all walks of life. A 2007 study from the Food and Agriculture Association put the number of people eating street food every day at 2.5 billion. The fact that rich and poor alike enjoy it means it adapts very well to professional kitchens.
One thing that a hotel can bring to the party is better hygiene. While in the old days vendors carried food on trays and baskets on their heads (where it could fall victim to passing birds), healthy hawker fare has become a priority today. It’s another reason why the excitement of the street marries perfectly with the reassurance of the hotel kitchen.