Chef Daisley Gordon cooks refined French-y food at Campagne—beef tartare, leeks vinaigrette, and yes, even frog legs. But he was born in Jamaica, and he regularly goes to visit his parents, who have moved back. When he thinks of street food, he thinks of jerk, which signifies both a marinade and a method of roasting meats. "Jerk is only about as spicy as two-star Thai food—it's not fiery. The rub is made with ground allspice and black pepper, some scotch bonnet and something like scallion bottoms," says Gordon.
"My parents live in an area of Jamaica known for it. It's called Boston—that kind of open pit grilling and roasting meats is a method left from the indigenous tribes, before the black slaves came over from Africa. In that area, there are loads and loads of allspice, which the Jamaicans call pimento, and the allspice tree limbs and cuttings are used for the fire." The best place to go for jerk is called Boston Jerk Chicken. "You can get the stuff in Kingston, you can get it in a bottle, but nothing like having it there: a huge open pit with tree limbs stretched across, and the meat is roasted really gently. You'll be eating pieces of pork and you don't know what part of the animal it is and you don't care."
Street food like jerk, says Gordon, comes with "no ceremony, but the food itself is vibrant. It hasn't been tamed for people with sensitive tastes." SARA DICKERMAN
Since, unlike Italy, we don't have a pig truck selling tripe and porchetta (roast pork) sandwiches, or street vendors selling mortadella sliced to order, or even meatball subs, we all have to crowd into Salumi, Armandino Batali's bowling alley of a deli for a little bit of meaty heaven. "We don't have a lot of traditions in Seattle on the street," says Batali, but he does like sandwiches with onions and sauerkraut from Al's Gourmet Sausages. "They're damn good. He's big at the baseball games, and he's also opened a place on second near the Bon Marche. He does good."
Cannoli is another favorite street food of Batali's that he can't find done right around here. The tubes of crisp-fried dough are sold in Italy and at street fairs in Greenwich Village or on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. "You can buy them here, but they're all soggy. They just crunch on the street," when the shells have just come out of the fryer. Batali prefers his cannoli with a classic ricotta filling. "Everybody tries to screw around with that and they screw it up." SARA DICKERMAN
Ethan Stowell's menu at upscale downtown restaurant Union is about as far from street food as you can get, but he's a big fan of Ray's Pizza in New York (though he advises against patronizing the Times Square one). He also has a thing for the mobile snacks of Mexico. "Oysters that have been sitting out for three hours in the sun, the tacos made in a big cast iron bucket on wheels—most people don't eat it, but I do. In Mazatlan, they have carts where they take a big, tall glass and salt the rim and fill it up with shrimp—it's PACKED with shrimp," Stowell says. "Then they fill it up with a warm tomato-and-shrimp broth, then they get a whole bunch of jalapenos, stir that in, then a bunch of chopped cilantro, stir that in, then a bunch of lime juice, stir that in. It comes with oyster crackers. You sit there with this big, long sundae spoon and lean against the wall. Eat that, hand them back the glass, and that's it." BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT
"You've accurately placed me as a junk food habitué," says Jim Drohman, chef at Le Pichet, where he often incorporates French street foods into his snacky casse-croute menu. He goes on to list some favorites. "Well there's accras, curried salt cod fritters. You find them in ethnic street markets in Paris, they're Senegalese in origin. Mille feuilles and éclairs are also de rigueur street food. In the south there's socca (chickpea crepes), pissaladiere (onion and anchovy tarts), and panisse (chickpea fries) in cones. Of course, there's all manner of frites, and there's crepes of course: I like what they call the complet, which is ham, gruyere and cooked egg."
"Then there's the sandwich grecque, which I love the hell out of. Typically they are served in Turkish restaurants I was just in Paris and I ate them, like, five times. They're like gyros, not ground meat, but a skewer of lamby bits that is shaved off, and served with tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion, and your choice of harissa or sauce blanche (a creamy white sauce like tzatziki). They jam some fries on top and they're wrapped in foil. Tasty, especially when you're drunk; and for three and a half or four euros, you've pretty much got all your daily requirements."
Despite the excellent selection of street food in france, Drohman says that eating on the street in France usually involves plenty of booze. "French people don't take lunch on the hoof all that often. All the stands tend to be near the clubs and open to 5 a.m. feeding people when they come rolling out of bars, clubs, and dance places. It's about nighttime hunger and craving. " He has even noticed that, although Paris now hosts "a discernible number of Starbucks," the French have not quite grasped the concept. "You almost see no one walking down the street with their coffee. They sit down with their 20 oz paper cups and use their sofas until they are done." SARA DICKERMAN
Brasa's chef, the well-traveled Tamara Murphy, loves street food. "Street food is the best! You can see the culture unfold right before your eyes…here we're just so sterile." She goes on to list a few favorites: "In South America, there are those meat skewer— antichucho—stands, on every other street corner. They are served with a green spicy chili sauce on them, and then they have some sort of baked, braised small potato on the tip of the skewer. Also in southern Thailand they have these little great baby chickens, they are boned and flattened, and they rub all this chili coconut paste on them. Then, in Mexico, near the Yucatan, there's the michiote. Women have streetside woks filled with hot oil and what's almost a stuffed white corn tortilla, filled with pork, beef, chicken or cheese. I always liked the pork… Then there's this pico de gallo served with them, and it was all like 25 cents, when I was there, which wasn't all that long ago." SARA DICKERMAN
Although Lark's chef associates American street food with childhood—corndogs and foot-high marble soft-serve cones—he's come across some pretty cool stuff on his travels. "When I was in Japan seven years ago, takoyaki were pretty delicious, especially after a few vending machine Sapporos. They are little fritters cooked in a pan with 30 or so golf-ball sized indentations. They are studded with pieces of octopus (taki means octopus in Japanese) and seaweed, vegetables and bean sprouts. You get a little carton of those, and a toothpick, and then there are sauces and condiments for them." In Japan or here in the states, condiments always count. He says, "I think they separate the good from the mediocre street food stands." SARA DICKERMAN
Sedat Uysal, chef/owner of Pioneer Square's treasured Café Paloma, is from Turkey, where street food is ubiquitous. "Every town has street food vendors," Uysal says. "In Istanbul, because it's so crowded and busy, you can find almost everything on the street." ("Almost everything" includes spit-roasted sheep intestines, spicy meatballs, peeled cucumbers, boiled corn, fresh-off-the-boat fish sandwiches, and green almonds.) "Almost every city in Turkey has simit—it's almost like a pretzel, very unique, very Turkish, like a stretched-out bagel. It's a perfect round circle, the thickness of a couple fingers, and it has a lot of sesame seeds on it. It's very cheap—it's a quick breakfast or lunch for everybody. You grab it and have it on the ferry or at the bus stop."
Uysal says street vendors are an utterly integral part of Turkish city life. "These people, many don't have business licenses. They're all like pirate street vendors. The zapita, the city police, pretty much look the other way, because a lot of people love them. And there's economic pressure to provide food for people who don't have money to eat at restaurants all the time. The zapita do chase them sometimes and confiscate their tools—then they have to buy them back or bribe them." BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT
Les Cadeaux Gourmet
Seis Kamimura is the co-owner, with wife Pia, of Les Cadeaux Gourmet, a retail shop filled with the prettiest, fanciest chocolates, vinegars, teas, and china, but he's not afraid to eat in the street, especially in Japan where every town seems to have its own specialty. In addition to the takoyaki, there is yakitori, grilled chicken skewers, and sweet potatoes "baked over coals, directly in the bed of ash. They put them in paper bags and sell them at festivals and stuff," says Kamimura. There is also okonomiyaki and monjayaki, two similar dishes about which people like to argue which is better, but basically they are both something like a frittata, with "seafood, meats, or vegetarian fillings in a base of cabbage, egg and water. Some have crushed bonito (tuna) flakes in them." Sometimes, you get to make your own over a hot griddle; then they are dished up with a special spatula "that looks a little like a kitty litter scoop," and they are served with bulldog sauce, which is like "half Worcestershire sauce and half ketchup." SARA DICKERMAN