Restaurants in every city have special dishes that define the local favorites. In London, it could be shepherd’s pie, in Paris, fois gras; in Vienna, weinerschnitzel; and in Beijing, Peking duck. On city streets, the offerings from carts may not be as fancy, but they can be just as tasty and much cheaper than in sit-down restaurants. Also, dining on a nearby park bench or lawn can be just as enjoyable as at a restaurant table. No matter which city you visit, there’s always a familiar street food item that defines it. Here are some of my favorites:
The Belgians have frites (French fries to Americans) down to a science, and although they prefer them with mayonnaise, they still make them perfectly. By double-frying them in two different-temperature oils, once to cook them, the second time to perfectly brown and crisp them, a bit of culinary perfection is achieved. Our favorite is Chez Antoine at Place Jourdan, open seven days a week.
Berlin: Currywurst Sausage
A currently popular sausage on a bun specialty in Berlin is der currywurst, a concoction where the vendor sprinkles curry powder on the hot pork link, adds tomato paste and Worcestershire sauce, and stuffs it in a bun. It comes with the choice of fried potatoes or sauerkraut. It costs about $5 and is great while sightseeing and really great at about 2 a.m. after a night of fun. Our favorite spot is Konnopke’s Imbiss in the Prenzlauer Berg area, under the Eberswalder Strasse U-Bahn train stop. They’ve been selling sausages there since 1930.
Tel Aviv: Sabich
This street vendor favorite, pronounced sa-BEEK, actually originated in Iraq, but has been enthusiastically embraced by Israelis in Tel Aviv and elsewhere. The vegetarian ingredients vary with each cart, but a sabich usually consists of a large, folded pita bread stuffed with sliced egg, fried eggplant, hummus, tahini, potato, cucumbers, and hot mango sauce. It’s a great combination of flavors and makes for a delicious meal with an average price around $5. There are many places to find them on the streets of Tel Aviv, look for the ones crowded with locals.
One of the the great pleasures to strolling the streets of Paris is having a crepe made on a street-side cart. To watch the chef spread the liquid batter onto the hot plate, then work it and fold it perfectly into a crepe is a thing of beauty. Crepes are like thin pancakes and come in both sweet and savory flavors. Depending on my mood, I like to get a jambon y fromage (ham and cheese) as a lunchtime or afternoon snack, and I like a sweet raspberry jam and butter crepe in the morning. Crepe carts are all over the city; be sure to get a fresh one made right in front of you.
Rio de Janeiro: Quiejo Coalho
When we were in Rio last year, one of the first places we wanted to see was the famous Copacabana boardwalk and Ipanema beaches. One of our favorite street foods was grilled cheese on a stick. And not grilled cheese like an American grilled cheese sandwich — this was a chunk of salty Brazilian cheese grilled on a stick. We found many vendors there and had our quiejo coalho while watching the Atlantic Ocean and passing bikinis. The price of Rio street food is considerably less than in restaurants. However, carts along the beach and boardwalk are fancier and pricier than those in other parts of the city. We paid $5 for our quiejo coalho.
You can follow travel writer Ted Sherman on Twitter @travel4seniors and check out his blog travel4seniors.com.
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