Good food on the go

2012-02-03 09:16

Fast food is an awful approach to nutrition, but this mass-produced, high-fat stuff that passes for lunch has its roots in street food – an altogether more appetising approach to eating. It got me thinking about how much more adventurous we are outside of our borders, and it set me off on a journey to find three great places for a street lunch in my hometown of Joburg.

When abroad, our sense of adventure is ignited and we all venture on to the streets to try the food. Anyone who goes to New York has a hot dog with all the trimmings.
In Holland you wouldn’t leave without visiting one of the street vendors for a cone of hot chips with mayonnaise. In Thailand no one comes back without having tried the fresh green papaya salad on the bustling streets.

In Israel you’d have your pita bread stuffed with falafel, in Turkey you’d have a shish or doner kebab in pita, while in France you’d eat brioche or slap some cheese on a baguette.

In Italy you may do some sightseeing clutching a Parma ham and cheese panini, while in England you can get your fish and chips to go in a newspaper cone – or if you are down south, a genuine Cornish pasty, the very thing that got me thinking about the ingeniousness of street food.

Pasties were created to feed hungry, dirty-handed miners – so I discovered while watching late-night food show repeats. Encased in a thick pastry with a plaited handle at one side, they were filled with meat on one side and apple on the other, making them a complete meal – and the handle was disposable.
The same ingeniousness applies to all sorts of food. Our own bunny chow is ideal for those who don’t have time to sit down and eat, and it comes in its own edible container. While its origins are disputed, it was bound to be the result of a practical solution for Durban’s Indian community to eat a meal without needing a plate. Ditto, wraps, burgers and even the humble sandwich.

Sandwiches go back to the beginning of time, with stale bread being used as plates in the Middle Ages. As industrialisation gained momentum, so too did the popularity of the sandwich, which was a quick, easy way to take lunch to work. It’s called a sandwich for reasons unrelated to its invention. One of the earls of Sandwich asked for his meat between two slices of bread, which started a craze, and so it morphed into the sandwich.

The ubiquitous hamburger has its roots in Germany, where the eating of minced meat was a delicacy. The German emigrants to America took the recipe with them. To entice sailors in ports, the minced meat was put into a roll to make it easier to eat on the fly.

In some cultures, people live in such squashed spaces that they choose to eat their dinner on the street because they don’t have sufficient kitchen facilities to make dinner.
I realised that with Joburg being such a cultural melting pot I could probably get quite a few of these ingenious fast street foods without having to buy an air ticket. To prove myself right, I decided to start close to home in Fordsburg. There alone I had three delicious fast food lunches and had to defer others to another day.

First stop was Burhans butchery, where I tucked into a freshly made shish kebab for the ridiculous price of R25.

I could barely finish it and I still had two more lunches to go.

At Mohammedy’s Tikka House, the cook basted and roasted a juicy bit of chicken before our eyes, which came with a roti. At the nearby Mohammedy’s Pakistani Foods, we tucked into five different curries as a steady stream of workers traipsed in to get their takeaway lunch.

My conclusion: If you do happen to forget to make your sandwich, there’s no need to feel doomed to an unsatisfying fast food lunch. Instead, get out and about, and see if there’s a vendor whipping up some inspiring street food. Be a culinary tourist in your own back yard.

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