It’s winning over everyone: Michelin-starred chefs, food and wine critics, food bloggers, entrepreneurs and, of course, consumers. We’re talking about gourmet street food: the modern-day reinterpretation of street food that uses top-quality ingredients. It’s still a niche market but it is rapidly growing, particularly in big cities where the number of food trucks offering sophisticated delicacies from all over the world is increasing.
Today, meal times have changed due to busy lifestyles and the lack of spare time. So-called “metro eaters” eat on their way from one appointment to another and they have two priorities: quality and speed. According to food anthropologist Lucia Galasso – who contributed to research commissioned by Sanpellegrino, a leader in the beverage industry –gourmet street food is a vehicle we use to communicate our food values to others. It’s no coincidence that every food preference is catered for in large cities. What we are dealing with is a reaction to standardised food that could end up making us lose the sense of those unmistakable details that reveal the identity of a particular cuisine. As far as this aspect is concerned, street food is a tool that allows us to explore a territory and rediscover recipes that have been handed down from one generation to the next at an affordable price. And let’s not forget storytelling. Often street cooks are the repositories of an oral tradition of traditional cuisine: a pleasure that involves all the senses and wins us over through the stories they tell and their gestures.
A number of international cases demonstrate the rise of gourmet street food. The chefs at New York’s Rouge Tomate, a well-known restaurant on the Upper East Side boasting a Michelin star, have created the “Rouge Tomate Cart in the Park”, which offers a street menu at the entrance to Central Park Zoo. Italy, with its rich food tradition, is just as far ahead: Michelin-starred chefs Cristina Bowerman and Mauro Uliassi offer their specialities in the open air from an Ape Romeo three-wheel van and the “Uliassi street good gang”. The Michelin guide has also joined the fray, and in 2016 it ennobled this phenomenon by awarding a star to two landmarks of Singapore’s street food: the Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle food stall and the Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodles food stall.