Recently, I posted about how the word "gourmet" makes me hurl, and how so-called gourmet cuisine is usually "perfectly respectable food but… overdone…boring and devoid of cultural associations."
The food that's most reflective of a culture is street food, eaten by locals every day on their way to and from work, frequently prepared outside their homes or offices with products sometimes growing (or caught) in the neighborhood.
I just received my copy of Street Food around the World, edited by Colleen Sen and former Wednesday Journal contributor Bruce Kraig.
For this encyclopedia, I wrote chapters on street food I enjoyed last year in Singapore and Thailand (mentioned in the introduction as the top two street food cities in the world), as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong. There are other chapters written by other local food people like Mike Sula of the Chicago Reader (South Korea) and Monica Eng (Uzbekistan), formerly of the Chicago Tribune and now WBEZ.
In the pages of Street Food around the World, you'll find some familiar stuff (like hot dogs, a food Kraig has made a focus of scholarly inquiry), and you'll also learn about kwek-kwek (deep fried quail eggs from the Phillipines), dondurma (Turkish ice cream that contains no cream but does contain orchid root) and attieke (fermented cassava from Cote d'Ivoire). There are hundreds of similarly fascinating street eats cataloged and described in this book.
Unlike restaurants that change their menus frequently, many of the street offerings found around the world are traditional; they've been favorites of pedestrians for sometimes centuries. I hope, whether you're traveling soon or not for some years, that this global compendium of curbside snacks will prove useful. I think you'll like it a good read even if you're not planning to travel but just love learning about good food that springs clearly from a cultural context.