Review by Myrna Robins
MASTERCHEF STREET FOOD OF THE WORLD (Absolute Press of Bloomsbury)
This is a hefty hardback, its front cover presenting a mélange of dishes filled with fare both exotic and everyday: skewers of fiery offal share space with strawberry-topped waffles and cream, fried egg tops a plate of Danish leftovers alongside all-American picnic sarmies.
The very title intrigues, and food writer Taylor has added prestige to what is a pleb menu by getting contributions from MasterChef champions from France, Denmark, Australia, USA, the Far East and the UK. As the back cover states, millions around the globe relish street food every day, so a compendium of these recipes from all corners of the planet amounts to a treasury for adventurous home cooks to explore.
With the current vogue of food trucks in towns and cities dishing out portable street eats, along with night markets and food festivals proliferating across the globe, this sociable cuisine is trending, and it seems unlikely that such a relaxed informal way of eating will go out of fashion soon, if ever.
Street food is hardly new, and can be traced back to ancient Rome and medieval London, among other cities. Today’s street and market cuisines are usually characterised by a kaleidoscope of colour, flavour, aromas and taste sensations. As the author suggests, this collection of recipes enables every cook to bring a sense of wanderlust to their home kitchens.
Chapters focus on continents, opening with the Americas, followed by Europe, the Middle East and Africa. The Indian subcontinent precedes the section on Asia and Australia. While western classics like beef burgers, fish and chips are included in the line-up, it’s the exotic items from the Middle and Far East and north Africa that first attracted me, along with those from the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Tasty bites from Louisiana sandwich shops start the American ball rolling, and then it’s off to the islands, with Jamaican jerk chicken and Trini Doubles from Trinidad (chickpea curry sandwiched between naan bread). Mexico offers chicken and sweetcorn quesadillas with guacamole, tamales with pulled pork and chilli sauce and a tempting sorbet of tequila, mango and lime to make in summer. Heading south, there’s ceviche from Peru, arepas with queso blanco and guasacaca from Venezuela, which translates into little cornmeal cakes stuffed full of homemade cheese and accompanied by robustly flavoured avocado-based sauce . Argentinian short ribs with chimichurri sauce is already a local braai favourite, followed here by dulce de leche ice cream.
British favourites include Cornish pasties and a variation on Scotch eggs, while France whips up niçoise wraps and crepes banoffee. Flamkuchen and kartoffelpuffer from Germany are followed by an appetising-looking leftover Danish classic called Biksemad. There are also street specials from Finland, Poland, Bosnia and the Czech Republic before the masterchefs look south to Greece, settling on souvlaki pitas with tzatsiki and tiropita. Arancini with Gorgonzola, polpette, verduri fritti and gnocco fritto make the Italian selection while the sweet offering from Spain is churros and chocolate sauce.
Delectable bites from Turkey include gozleme with spinach,feta and pinenuts, balik ekmek, midye dolma and simit, all of which translates into stuffed flatbreads, a mackerel sandwich, stuffed mussels and something similar to a bagel, topped with sesame seeds. Equally tempting snacks from Israel, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco follow, making this a chapter I would turn to often. The chefs then look south down the African continent, stopping in Ghana, Nigeria and Ethopia. We have long savoured a street foods in South Africa, from a variety of cultural traditions: our country’s diversity is represented with recipes for the Gatsby, bunny chow, masala pineapples and melktert. Mauritius also makes the cut with a dholl puri with butterbean curry.
And so, to India with Pakistan and Sri Lanka as add-ons. Expect kebabs and samosas, tikki with date and tamarind chutney, egg bhurji with parathas, kati rolls, masala dosa, chicken 65 and cooling mango and cardamom kulfi lollies. I like the look of of Sri Lankan turmeric fried eggs with curry sauce that could prove a meat-free sensation.
Further east now, to sample Chinese tea eggs and char siu bao, on to Korea for mixed vegetable kimbap with gochugaru dipping sauce, then daintier fare from Japan such as Yakitori chicken skewers and daigaku imo. Nepal, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam present a fragrant and vibrant mix of flavours while Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia serve up street fare that is familiar to most of us like satés and sambals, prawn curry laksa, and sate ayam with peanut sauce.
What can we expect from Australia? I would not have guessed correctly, but it’s a trio that starts with fried prawns with citrus salt and sriracha mayo, chiko rolls and steak and onion pie – perhaps they taste wonderful, but this was the only menu that disappointed on reading it. I expected something more exciting from Down Under.
Many local cooks will embrace this treasury, in search of vibrant new flavours or to recall those enjoyed in street markets in far-off lands. To mimic a former radio ad for a popular local white wine, these dishes are made for family and friends, eating, drinking, laughing and sharing occasions. I could not think of a better birthday or Christmas present for friends who like roaming the culinary world in their home kitchens. For one, I am thrilled to possess this gem.