Street dishes seem to be growing in popularity and in appearance on menus

by Olivia DeWolfe
CulinaryEd Columnist
February 15, 2011

The Creme Brulee Cart, an example of street food.Though street food has had its place in every society for eons, it's popularity in America could reach new heights in 2011. Once served mainly by small neighborhood eateries, vendor carts and food trucks, items like tacos, kabobs, dim sum, tempura and other street food-inspired bites will be the number one appetizers found on brick-and-mortar restaurant menus, according to the National Restaurant Association's "What's Hot in 2011's Chef Survey."

In fact, American eaters are so infatuated with these treats, a television show dedicated to trotting the globe in search of them has been created. "Street Eats" is a series on SUN TV that documents the travels of its four hosts to locations like Sri Lanka, Greece, and Hungary to try local delicacies like lamrais curries, loukamades honey balls, and csabai sausages.

Of course, not all street eats have origins in other countries. Items like gourmet grass-fed beef burgers, hot dogs made with wine, mushrooms and onions, and hand-cut sweet potato and parsnip fries are also popular.

Capitalizing on this trend, the town of Santa Rosa, Calif., will be sponsoring a Munch Monday event in 2011 where six or more mobile vendors will converge on a central location to offer a variety of quality street eats at lunch hour. Some chefs serving from mobile venues have been so successful selling their street food that they want to upgrade to brick-and-mortar establishments, like the popular Jon's Street Eats of Oakland, while other restaurant owners are taking their shows on the road.

Street food is getting attention from top chefs like Susan Feniger (Border Grill, Ciudad, STREET), who judged the Cook-Off Competition at this past summer's L.A. Street Food Fest, with categories like Best Old School Street Food and Best Nouveau Street Food.

Recognizing the possibilities in this exciting trend, some culinary school graduates are applying their classical training and business skills to open venues with creative street-food inspired menu items. Just think of Chef Dennis Chan of the Blue Bamboo restaurant in Jacksonville, Fla. How will you get on board?


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