Street food is not a new phenomenon. Ancient Greek vendors sold small fried fish on the street. Thirteenth-century Aztec marketplaces had vendors who sold tamales, guacamole and fried insects. In recent years, the world of street food has grown in scope and popularity, from Asian night markets, to urban food trucks, to neighborhood farmers’ markets stalls. Small spaces, flexible menus and a quick inventory turn helps street food vendors adapt and adjust their offerings to meet changing customers’ preferences.
Besides serving as breeding grounds for the hottest trends, street foods also offer an easy, relaxed dining vibe that’s increasingly in demand. While consumers are certainly willing to spend quite a bit on dining experiences, they’re no longer interested in returning to the fine-dining tradition of stuffy, French-accented maître d’s, giant-sized menus and an endless array of glassware and cutlery. These days, they’re just as happy to wait in long lines at a food truck round-up, and they’re equally willing to sit on a picnic bench—or a curb—to enjoy their moveable feast.
From curbside to tableside
If you’d like to bring the vibe of street food to your operation, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Authenticity. In a recent article in The Independent, food writer Lizzie Rivera says that calling your cuisine “Indian,” for example, won’t be enough for globally conscious diners who are accustomed to specificity in their street food. “People want to know that their seafood dish is inspired by the ports of Kerala or that their vegetarian curry is from the streets of Gujarat,” she says.
Small bites, big flavors. Globally inspired finger foods and shareable plates can add a market-stall sensibility to your menu. Consumers want to try lots of options and share them with each other. It’s part of the desire to “have it all” as they work their way through a menu, combined with an unwillingness to commit to one large entrée. Popular bite-sized Asian options include dim sum favorites like char siu bao and dumplings.
Indulge me. Street food offers consumers a less guilt-inducing way to try more indulgent offerings, especially ones that are more meat-intensive, fried and/or more heavily sauced than they might choose in a traditional entrée format. Consider small plate offerings like tempura, chaat, kabobs, sabih, samosas and pupusas, which can offer you a creative platform on which to build your own unique creations.