Wherever you go in the world, the food of the street represents the identity of the people. Clues to culture, race, and religion can be found in the local cuisine.
Simply put, you haven’t experienced Penang, not the real Penang, until you’ve eaten on its streets. And the same, I would argue, could be said for any other place in the world that street food still exists.
Street food naysayers miss the point. When it comes to eating on the street it’s not only about the food. (And it’s not about proving your traveling cohones either.) Be open to the whole experience, and a street food meal will give as much insight into a place and a culture as any guidebook intro. Plus, you get to fill your belly at the same time.
From the University of California at Santa Cruz to Virginia Tech, cafeteria trays are disappearing, enabling universities and food-service companies to reduce food waste, lower energy costs and make college campuses more environmentally sustainable. The reasoning goes like this: when students are allowed to use trays, they tend to roam around the cafeteria grabbing food with abandon until space on the tray runs out. If you remove their trays, you make it impossible for them to carry a surplus of dishes, and they will make their selections more carefully and be satisfied with less food overall. That saves on food. Further, getting rid of trays means dishwashers have less to wash. That saves on water and energy.
At first sight the business resembles a thriving pottery. In a dusty courtyard women mould clay and water into hundreds of little platters and lay them out to harden under the Caribbean sun. The craftsmanship is rough and the finished products are uneven. But customers do not object. This is Cité Soleil, Haiti’s most notorious slum, and these platters are not to hold food. They are food. Brittle and gritty—and as revolting as they sound—these are “mud cakes”. For years they have been consumed by impoverished pregnant women seeking calcium, a risky and medically unproven supplement, but now the cakes have become a staple for entire families.
It is not for the taste and nutrition—smidgins of salt and margarine do not disguise what is essentially dirt, and the Guardian can testify that the aftertaste lingers - but because they are the cheapest and increasingly only way to fill bellies. “It stops the hunger,” said Marie-Carmelle Baptiste, 35, a producer, eyeing up her stock laid out in rows. She did not embroider their appeal. “You eat them when you have to.”
In Ecuador, the sources of some of the best bargain eating can’t be marked in a guidebook or circled on a map. In fact, even a well-versed local won’t be able to tell you exactly when and where to find these particular meals. Mostly, you just have to sit back until they find you, which they inevitably do, courtesy of a series of one-person mobile-food-stand entrepreneurs who hop aboard public buses, sell their delicious and amazingly varied wares and hop out until the next group of captive diners rolls by.
These gray-market vendors thrive on the ridership on Ecuador’s efficient and extensive bus system. In Cumandá terminal in Quito, more than 30 competing bus companies vie for customers, shouting impending departures from their ticket windows, so the wait is never long and the price is right. Even at the extranjeros, or foreigners’, price, tickets average $1 per hour of travel (the American dollar has been the official currency since 2000). Besides the music, all buses come with air-conditioning — and a chance to acquaint yourself with local culture and cuisine.
On my recent three-and-a-half-hour bus journey down the Pan-American Highway, the ice-cream man was only one of dozens of people who jumped aboard at various stops as we beat a path southward from the capital city of Quito to the nation’s adventure mecca, Baños, through the valley known as Avenue of the Volcanoes. The vendors hawked everything from herbal cures to watches, but the real one-of-a-kind items were brought aboard by people clutching baskets or coolers, like the helado man. The homemade sweets and snacks they sell, along with the fast food cooked up at stands around markets and bus stations, offered a thorough sampling of regional specialties.
A Chinese curse condemns one to live in interesting and eventful times. The best thing about Covington is that it is in a certain sense out of place and time but not too far out and therefore just the place for a Chinese scholar who asks nothing more than being left alone. One can sniff the ozone from the pine trees, visit the local bars, eat crawfish, and drink Dixie beer and feel as good as it is possible to feel in this awfully interesting century. And now and then, drive across the lake to New Orleans, still an entrancing city, eat trout amandine at Galatoire’s, drive home to my pleasant, uninteresting place, try to figure out how the world got into such a fix, shrug, take a drink, and listen to the frogs tune up.
Cities offer a lot of environmental benefits, at least compared to the alternatives. There are many reasons this is so, but they all spring from a fairly basic fact: cities are built for people. Lots of people, densely packed, sharing resources. Innovations that encourage or take advantage of that density are likely to make cities more sustainable. And innovations that undermine density have a lot of work to do to overcome their inherent environmental disadvantages.
New York City, for example, recently released an ambitious plan to slash municipal carbon emissions by almost two million metric tons per year. Fully 16% of total life cycle reductions will come from a new rail and barge network built for the express purpose of hauling garbage. No one will appear on The Colbert Report to plug the new garbage barges, but the system will eliminate five million vehicle miles per year. Less congestion, less noise, less air pollution, and less greenhouse gas emissions. New York’s size and density make this project possible.
Urban vertical farms, on the other hand, fail miserably on this score. Land is one of the primary inputs for agriculture, which is why we don’t expect to see corn growing in lower Manhattan. Such spaces are better reserved for people, mass transit, mass entertainment, and businesses that depend primarily on human capital.
Our collective confusion on this point seems to be most acute when the topic is food. We intuitively understand that it doesn’t really make sense to manufacture, say, iPods in small factories scattered across hundreds of urban centers, even though iPods are consumed in just about every city in the world. We readily grasp that the economics wouldn’t work out, and we probably even understand that such a scheme wouldn’t help the environment. Efficiency benefits more than just the bottom line.
Steam rises into air thick with the scent of garlic as women prepare lunch for 120 of Peru’s neediest.
But this is no charity. Obaldina Quilca and Veronica Zelaya – who are on cooking duty today – are also beneficiaries of one of the estimated 5,000 community kitchens run by women in Peru’s capital, Lima.
The kitchens started in the 1970s and persisted through the ‘80s and ‘90s, through dictatorship, terrorism, and hyperinflation that brought Peru to its knees. And now that global food prices have put basic staples out of reach for families across the region, the kitchens that feed an estimated half million residents of metropolitan Lima every day are again providing a refuge.
But their work goes well beyond survival; the kitchens have become a vehicle for collective action, giving women the self-esteem to denounce government shortcomings and demand change. They have risen as one of the most significant women’s organizations in Latin America, and today are on the forefront of protests demanding solutions to a cost of living that many say is reversing recent progress in reducing poverty.
While the report said Australia had overtaken the United States as the fattest nation on the planet, recent U.S. studies show around 34 percent of Americans are overweight or obese.
And small Pacific nations top World Health Organization lists, with 94.5 percent of people in tiny Nauru classed as overweight, leading to chronic diabetes problems on the island.
The Federated States of Micronesia (91.1 percent), the Cook Islands (90.9 percent), Tonga (90.8 percent) and Niue (81.7 percent) rounded out the WHO top five, while the United States came in at number nine, with 74.1 percent overweight or obese.
Curry’s conquest of the world began with the conquest of India by the East India Company. Madras curry in its various forms (the word deriving from the Tamil kari and the Telugu kara, as also from similar sounding terms in Kannada and Malayalam), became the most hybrid and ubiquitous of all India’s spicy (masala) sauces and stews. Normally this was served with rice in the south and with soft wheat breads such as chapattis, parathas, puris, or simple nan in the north. The author is not quite correct when she says that the British invented curry: there is not a respectable household anywhere in the countryside that does not produce its own unique curries, with secrets handed down from mother to daughter. But it is true that, starting in Madras, a hybrid Anglo-Indian cuisine spread and became ubiquitous, not only throughout all of the subcontinent (including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka), but gradually throughout the rest of Asia and Africa, and finally to Europe and the Americas.