Street food universally features the best, most craveable and popular fare that vendors masterfully prepare fresh in front of the masses and then peddle for their livelihood. Carried over to the American menu, street food touches on several culinary trends—global flavors, shareability and portability—with an added layer of food safety quality assurance not always possible to assure on the street in its original setting.
Chefs are feeling the global vibe. Some 350 surveyed professional chefs were asked to name what they think the hottest culinary trend will be in 2022. Global fare and flavors ranked in the top five responses, according to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot 2022 Culinary Forecast.1
Last summer, the Las Vegas strip put its shine on the global street food movement when it opened a 24,000-square-foot food hall called Famous Foods Street Eats featuring 16 stalls with a selection of famous dishes from Southeast Asia, India, Japan, Italy and beyond.2
Before launching a global street nibble on the bar, appetizer or small plate menu, examine your current ingredients while finding an approachable theme that makes sense for your cuisine type.
Explore hand-held variety
Many countries encase flavorful fare inside some type of bread or pastry, presenting a portable base to explore. Consider the empanadas of South America, Greek gyros, Indian samosas, Chinese bao, Vietnamese banh mi and Southeast Asian curry puffs. In a way, even Mexican tacos and burritos fall within this framework. All are iconic street foods that can also be interchanged for a type of street food mashup.
San Francisco-based Indian fast casual Curry Up Now, which started as a food truck, not only offers the expected Indian samosas, but it also extends the flavor to a Tikka Masala Burrito. It’s a play that could inspire Mexican or Tex-Mex operators to fill burritos with other global cuisine flavors. At Curry Up Now, guests can choose between chicken or paneer tikka masala-flavored burrito fillings.
Thai food restaurant Tuk Tuk Thai Food Loft in Atlanta calls its small plate menu Thai Tapas, borrowing from Spanish small-plate sensibilities. It also showcases street-food fusion with its Thai Samosa, which it describes as crispy vegetable-filled rice paper pockets served with tamarind sauce.
Fire up the grill
Street food stalls commonly fan up the flames to grill skewered meat seasoned with the region’s classic flavors. In Western China, the smell of skewered and grilled lamb strips fills the air from street carts. Beachside hawkers in Mexico’s Pacific Coast skewer and grill marinated fish.3
Southeast Asian night market satay hawkers regularly flame-grill beef and chicken on skewers and serve with peanut sauce. The hand-held end result is easy to duplicate on an American menu. Consider Kona Grill with its tagline “America’s Favorite Grill.” The all-day menu features Chicken Satay, which it describes as grilled skewers, spicy Thai peanut sauce with cilantro and cabbage slaw.
The appetizer menu at Shiok! in Menlo Park, California, features Chicken Satay: two skewers of spice marinated chicken, grilled and served with cucumber and a peanut dipping sauce. Southeast Asian cuisine currently shines as the top global region influencing menus in 2022, according to the What’s Hot 2022 Culinary Forecast.2
Given the popularity of chicken on the menu (it is the top-menued protein in the U.S.4) skewered grilled chicken with peanut sauce is a good street food cuisine starting point. Jamaican jerk chicken is also a flavorful approachable street food. In fact, chefs rank Caribbean as the third top region currently influencing menus, according to the What’s Hot survey.2
Global street food doesn’t have to be an intimidating proposition for a trendy, savory new menu item when you simply combine your protein with the right spices and cooking style, giving it a name and description reminiscent of the international region. Customers will notice and appreciate the street food adventure.
- What’s Hot 2022 Culinary Forecast (National Restaurant Association, Nov. 16, 2021), https://go.restaurant.org/rs/078-ZLA-461/images/2022_What%27s_Hot_Report.pdf
- Komenda, Ed, “Las Vegas Strip market will serve up fare from top stars of Asian ‘hawker-style’ street food,” Reno Gazette Journal, May 4, 2021, https://chicago.suntimes.com/2021/5/4/22418414/resorts-world-las-vegas-strip-market-top-stars-of-asian-street-food
- “Skewers, Sticks, and Swords,” Saveur, May 15, 2021, https://www.saveur.com/kebabs-grilled-skewer-recipes/
- The World of Chicken report (Datassential), Datassential The World of Chicken report