I’ve been a nomad for a full week now, and it’s going well. A few days ago I did start getting a little restless to get up to SF, but I went to the gym and was able to blow off some steam. Other than that there’s not a lot to report. I start cat sitting for my friend Sara tonight but don’t think that will slow down my social activity any as I have one week left. Today I’d like to talk about something different, one of my favorite topics: food.
It has always been my humble opinion that food is more than nourishment. When traveling, the food you consume is yet another window to the culture you are surrounded by. The act of eating the food is almost religious, an intimate way that your travels become more of a part of you. One could easily break the bank on food, choosing to eat at well-rated, expensive tourist trap restaurants. A much cheaper, more authentic, and I think, more satisfying way to eat culturally on a budget is through street food.
Unfortunately, I have not yet visited the continent of Asia, so I know I’m missing out on some good cheap eats over there. The following list composes my favorite street foods around the world.
1) Czech Republic – Smazeny Syr
I am often surprised at how smazeny syr has not caught on in the states! Literally meaning “fried cheese”, a piece of Edam cheese is breaded with flour, egg and breadcrumbs and deep-fried. The traditional way of serving it is with salad or cabbage, potatoes, and tartar sauce. The way that I consumed it was in a bun, smothered in tartar sauce, on the street corners of Prague at all hours of the day or night. Sounds gross? Perhaps, but it really is no different from a mozzarella cheese stick sandwich and is tasty, satisfying and cheap. Want a quick bite between visiting Prague castle and meeting up with your friends on the Charles Bridge? Grab a smazeny syr on the way! Want to bar hop across Prague, consuming large amounts of Czech beer and that oh so popular American banned liquor, absinthe, while still getting up the next morning to sight-see? No problem! Have a smazeny syr right before bed at 3 in the morning and you will be right as rain the next day. I’m not sure how much this tasty treat costs today, but when I was there a few years ago it was a mere 35 Czech Kourny, the equivalent to $1.87. Even if the cost is up to 50 CZK, it’s still a cheap way to get a delicious lunch and avoid a hangover.
2) Israel – Pita Falafel
It’s pretty impossible to find bad falafel in Israel. You can find it everywhere, from sit down restaurants overlooking the Mediterranean Sea to rickety stands in the old city of Jerusalem. It’s delicious, relatively healthy, and the cheapest thing to eat in Israel. My favorite thing about eating pita falafel in Israel was the variety of things to go in the pita. The standard fillings are hummous, tahini, lettuce, cucumber, and tomato. Along with those, many places will put in french fries, grilled eggplant, pickled cabbage or beets or amazing tangy Israeli pickles. If you don’t want to look like a tourist, when the guy making your falafel asks if you want it spicy, the answer is yes. One of the best falafels we ate was at Gil’s Grill in Mitzpe Ramon, a town in the middle of the Negev Desert. At the end of a long, hot day hiking in the desert, there was nothing like a packed pita from Gil’s with an Israeli beer or coke. A pita falafel from Gil’s Grill is about 12 shekels, which is only around $3. That was a pretty standard price for a falafel. The cheapest we got was from an Arabic stand outside the Damascus Gate in the old city of Jerusalem, for 5 shekels ($1.30), and the most expensive was from a seaside restaurant in Netanya for 15 shekels ($4). Either way, it’s an inexpensive and delicious meal.
3) Poland – Obwarzanek
What the heck is a obwarzanek? The Polish ancestor of the modern bagel, the Obwarzanek Krakowski is round and thinner with a larger hole in the center, but the same concept as a bagel. It is a delicacy specific to Krakow. Like bagels, they are boiled before baked and can come plain or sprinkled with salt, poppy or sesame seeds, or cheese and onions. You can find hearty Polish ladies manning carts peddling this regional treat all over the squares of Krakow. The obwarzanek is actually so popular in Krakow that it has become the unofficial symbol of the city. These are a perfect snack on a cold Polish day when you have missed your train and are hungry and not sure what to do yet, and at 1.40 zlotys it is under 50¢ so well within your travel budget.
4) England – Jacket Potato
Ok, so it’s not technically a street food but fulfills the same requirements of being cheap, easy, tasty and authentic. If you go into any pub or sandwich shop in England you will find the magical jacket potato on the menu. It may look like just a baked potato, but do not be fooled, for it is so much more, and is so versatile. In any jacket potato you will find butter, and then usually a list of toppings and ways to do it. A classic jacket potato has Heinz baked beans (the British kind in tomato sauce) and cheese. For the more adventurous another popular selection is cole slaw or sour cream. My hands down favorite is tuna with mayonnaise. Sounds weird, but tastes great! Potato and tuna are some of my favorite foods, so put them together and I’m sold. The weirdest jacket potato I got was smoked salmon and cream cheese. I still enjoyed it, but it was definitely an odder combination of flavors. The cost of a jacket potato can be between £2 and £4 ($3.15-$6.25), depending on the toppings and how touristy your sandwich shop or pub is. The last few times I’ve been to England, I pretty much lived off of these!
5) Los Angeles- Bacon Wrapped Hot Dog
Everyone in Los Angeles knows that you can’t live here long without running into one of these. The bacon wrapped hot dog is commonly found on a food cart downtown, or being made of of a portable grill thing on the street by a tiny Latina when you get out of a show or club in Hollywood. These things look scary and weird, but once you get over the fact that it must have a gazillion fat calories they are darn tasty. To have it more authentic to the downtown LA Chicano vibe, get it with some grilled onions or peppers. I’m also a huge fan of condiments, so like to have mine smothered in ketchup and mayo as well. The only downside to a bacon wrapped hot dog? I always scarf them down too quickly! And at $3 a dog your wallet won’t be more dented after that poster and limited edition vinyl lp you purchased at the merch booth.
Runner Up: Israel- Choco Banana Ice Cream
It’s no joke: Israel is a hot country! And I’m not just talking about the fit young locals. So with high temperatures and varying climates (dry in the desert, humid on the coast), it’s no wonder that Israel has some of the best ice cream treats I’ve found. My hands down favorite is choco banana, which is banana ice cream on a stick that has been dipped in chocolate. Not super revelatory, but we should bring these things over! The choco banana makes for just the right combination of sweet and refreshing to recharge you on a hot summer’s day. In the middle of the desert, this tasty treat goes for just 6 NIS ($1.50 US). In larger cities like Tel Aviv and Haifa, expect to pay closer to 10 NIS ($2.50 US), but in the midday heat of Israel an ice cream budget is a necessity.
What’s your favorite street food that you’ve encountered? What was the cheapest/strangest/most authentic?
Good Luck and Happy Travels