If we are what we eat, food is the soul of any city – a view incubated by one of Al Jazeera’s most interesting English-language travel shows, simply titled “Street Food”. The series fuses travel with the culinary delights found in some of the world’s exotic urban areas, with a focus on the people, politics and other factors that influence the flavours found on the streets.
Using food consumed on the street as a vehicle, the series explores the link between ancient traditions and modern convenience as well as other factors that shape cuisine. Some of the dishes might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that the stories that accompany each trip make for fascinating and unique tales.
Each episode is split into two films of ten minutes each, and I’ve hand-picked some of the most interesting below.
The history surrounding China’s capital, its people and of course food is undeniably intriguing. Due to a crackdown on street food vendors in the city in a bid to clean up the streets, much of the traditional food has been pushed into specific areas, and much of it is embraced by tourists.
The series examines some of the more popular dishes as well as traditional Chinese food, like the “Chinese hamburger” and businesses that have survived for seven generations for more than 230 years.
The second-largest French-speaking city in the world outside of Paris, Montreal sees a very unique fusion of French and English in both language, culture and food. This has led to divisions in politics, and of course the culinary habits of its 1.6 million inhabitants.
French food is known the world over for its subtle flavours and attention to detail, and Montreal continues this tradition in North America. This episode looks at the often controversial topics of fast food and fine dining in a bilingual city of young and old.
In Japan, Osaka is known as the nation’s kitchen and was allegedly the first city in Japan where the restaurants had counters. It is the second-largest city in the country, and has a reputation being impatient – both in day-to-day life and when it comes to food.
With an emphasis on seafood, equality and speed, Osaka is a city that truly embraces street food – from the after-dark markets serving local favourites to Korea-town where necessities of the past have carved a way for delicacies of the present.
One of the most multicultural cities in the world, London is home to many different cultures, languages and the dishes that accompany such diversity. In a country where curry is the national dish, London serves up some of the best street food in the world.
The river Thames makes an important contribution to the local street food, with the eels, cockles and whelks featuring on menus from vendors throughout the city.
Known by locals as a city without a manual, Cairo has a rich history of economic power, iconic architecture and a unique menu of street food. International food chains exist in Cairo, though for many they are too expensive and thus street food is elevated to another level of importance.
This episode of Street Food pays greater attention to the troubles faced by people in the years leading up to what many have dubbed the “Arab Spring” in 2011. While the political situation has changed since this series was produced, the flavours and traditions have survived thousands of years and will surely go on for generations to come.
The Peruvian capital is home to 9 million people and is famous for its food, especially within South America. The diverse mix of flavours has given way to a culture of willingness to try new things, which sits alongside recipes that date back to Incan times.
The culture now embraces traditional Andean food which in the past has been unavailable for political (and geographical) reasons. These traditions are now being re-imagined under the guise of “new Andean cuisine” which fuses tradition and modern creativity into one dish.
There are another seven cities in the series of thirteen, each with their own two part films which you can watch via the links below:
- Fez [Part One] [Part Two]
- Jerusalem [Part One] [Part Two]
- Kingston [Part One] [Part Two]
- Nairobi [Part One] [Part Two]
- New York [Part One] [Part Two]
- Palermo [Part One] [Part Two]
- Zanzibar [Part One] [Part Two]
Don’t forget to add any comments and thoughts regarding the series, food discussed or any of your other favourite Al Jazeera series in the comments, below.