Why do I do this?
I choose travel books for review, yet I'm stuck in a wheelchair, and the farthest I've been in the last five years is less than 50 miles. And when I get the travel books, I usually end up in the early hours of the morning, reading and re-reading the sections on food.
And I was the same with this book. It is the worst combination - a book on food that you can find from street vendors around the world, with instructions on how to make it yourself. Within an hour of eating a substantial dinner I was wondering why no-one in the U.S. has made a chain of take-outs and restaurants dedicated to these recipes. And I was only halfway through the "B" recipes, with 100 choices laid out in alphabetical order. A small chain, perhaps, with no more locations than McDonalds, say, and definitely country-wide.
Street Food is a great and cheap way to get tasty things into your hand. It's usually prepared in front of you by the proprietor from fresh ingredients, and because it's made-to-order few or none of the components have been lying around to pick up germs. Over the years, recipes have evolved, but the simplicity needed makes for easily replicated dishes, and that's why this book is great for cooks who want to reproduce the food in their own home.
Of the 100 recipes, around a dozen are rated "complicated," which usually relates to needing a long time to prepare some of the ingredients - these are the ones where you can't just say, "Let's have [this recipe]," and have it ready in minutes. But the other 90 choices are divided pretty much equally into "moderate" and "easy." Basically moderate applies to anything that requires a bit of cooking, and easy, in many cases, just involves putting the ingredients together.
"Around the World" covers both the home of street food - South-East Asia and India - but there are plenty of recipes from other places that are not meant just for hot climates. They even cover some Western European and American recipes that, thanks to local food hygiene laws, are not sold on the streets but in fast-food places.
I must have sampled about a dozen of these dishes over the years, and all are my favorites. But it looks like plenty more could become my choices. The book shows mouthwatering pictures of the finished and preparation stages of the dish. There are recommendations on where to find good examples in their native country, and judging by the prices there, you'd pay less than the local equivalent of a dollar for most of them. Each dish has a short history of how it came about (sometimes over hundreds of years) and what it's like to eat them.
American dishes include Canadian staples like Poutine (fries with cheese and gravy) and Beaver Tails (proprietary sweet folded bread). The U.S. is represented by Maine Lobster Rolls, Breakfast Burritos, and well-known dishes like Hot Dogs and Pretzels. And Mexico and the Caribbean have sections on Tacos and Jerk Pork. Wherever you live, I'm sure some of the dishes will appear commonplace, but I think Lonely Planet intended the book to be sold around the world.
Even places like Britain and Australia (neither of which were highly regarded for their cuisine up to recently) have entries. The British entry is the wonderful Cornish Pastie, and the Australian is the Aussie favorite - the Meat Pie. I once bought one of these in Melbourne, and made the mistake of asking what kind of pie it was - meaning the filling. The server looked confused, and eventually said "Well, it's a Four and Twenties," referring the brand, as though it needed no further explanation (it's a beef pie).
If you're looking to cook these dishes, note that special ingredients are not necessary for around half of them, and specialized cooking implements for only a few. Around a third of the recipes are for sweet dishes, and the rest are for savory dishes, including the wonderful Chivito Al Pan from Uruguay, which appears to be as much meat as you can get into a Sandwich and have it all hold together.
Well, I'm getting hungry now. After all, it's been nearly two hours since breakfast, and you can't go too long without thinking about food. I have another five hours to wait till dinner, and looking at this book I can't wait until then. So I'll just have to suffer through today.
And so will you, if you read this book too far from mealtimes. It's a travel book (though you'll need a country guide if you plan to visit the places), a coffee-table book (though I hope for your sake you'll make it a street-food table), and a cookbook.
And it will give you ideas. Maybe that chain of restaurants could be a bit smaller, like only as many as Burger King. I suppose they wouldn't have to offer all 100 recipes, maybe sixty all the time and forty on a revolving basis, and it would be cheap, and . . .