Where has all the street food gone? Long time passing…
By Maurisa Glinton
Mar 20, 2011 - 2:39:27 PM
So I’ve been having this reoccurring dream… or nightmare depending on how you look at it! I’m walking down this street and it’s lined on either side with food carts, their native flags flapping in the wind. It’s as though every ten steps another cart lures me to its window with those cartoon fingers summoning me to see what delicious goodies lay inside. Cart after savory cart, I float from window to mouth watering window drooling over and sampling all the different offerings. I stop at the first cart with the German flag and I’m greeted my sausage, Kielbasa and Bratwurst, grilled to perfection with onion poppy seed rolls and sautéed onions. I stroll to the next cart I recognize the flag as Chinese, and there are a variety of Chinese dumplings; steamed, pan-fried and deep fried to perfection, filled with seafood and meat; dumplings fit for an Emperor! I head to the next cart and it’s filled with Mexican Grilled corn and the next, noodles and the next, gyros and souvlaki.
It goes on and on this way until finally, I get to the end of the street to the last cart, it has a Bahamian flag flapping in the wind. I lick my lips as I approach the cart, eagerly awaiting some delicious conch salad, conch fritters, fried fish, soft, warm panny cakes. I peek in and I’m floored. My jaw drops and my eyes begin to water. Inside the cart is a plate with one lonely fritter! As I reach to take the sample from the table top I hear laughter behind me. I turn around and the street is empty, I turn back to the cart just in time to see an old woman wiping the fritter into a bin and shaking her head. I scream, “Noooooooo!”, but I am too late. And then I wake up!
When I lived in New York I would spend weekend after weekend walking the various boroughs and tasting from the different food carts that represented the vast array of cultures in New York City. Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian, Mexican, African, Russian, German, Jewish and Caribbean cuisine poured through the streets of New York like edible gold. I yearned for the food festivals out in Red Hook in Brookyln when different Spanish cultures would come together and represent their respective countries with their traditional dishes.
Street food is the food of the people. It’s the culture, the history and the tradition passed down from generation to generation; it’s food that tells a story. Each country has a street food of sorts, a food that their people have depended on for some reason or another.
In most cases, street food originated from the concept of food for day laborers, particularly in urban areas. It is quick, cheap and generally indicative of the local flavors. Hence it is usually portable and or served in some sort of pocket or on a stick. In Ethiopia for example Injera bread is a popular street food, generally served with a spicy stew to be eaten with it. In Colombia, the empanada, a deep-fried meat-filled patty, is the snack of choice. In Argentina, vendors sell Choripan, a type of BBQ sausage served in french bread. In Japan soba or udon noodles and dumplings are popular. Throughout the Caribbean Street food is common too. Jamaica has Jerk, Barbados has fishcakes, Trinidad has its Roti and Shark and Bake spots and Haiti has Griot.
All of this got me thinking what is our street food? We too have lots of grill/ jerk pits, but is that it, is that “ours”? Fritters would be the closest thing I suppose, but street side, rarely and gone are the days when you’d get 4 or five for a dollar. I remember my parents telling stories of going down the street when they were growing up for a Fried fish and Panny cake, for little or nothing. Now the only thing I see representing street food is Hot Dog carts. Don’t get me wrong I love a good hot dog as much as the next foodie, but where are all the Conch stands?
Is it just that they have been regimented and reigned in to specific locations i.e. Arawak Cay and Potters Cay dock? Where has all our street food gone? Does no one remember piling in a car and making a drive for some food from your favorite shack. I remember driving to West End in Grand Bahama, and stopping at the Blue shack for fry Bari and fritters almost every Saturday, but alas, these days seem to be gone. Is it that we fear the cleanliness of these places? Is it that crime has kept the vendors away from their posts?
Whatever it is, we must bring it back. We must bring the freshness of food back to our palettes. I miss watching a large old kitchen machete make work of conch like a hot knife in butter. Watching strong, story laden hands drop fritter batter in perfect large mounds, while simultaneously tending to fish plopping in a hot cast iron skillet over a fire. I miss the culture of it the flavorful feel of it all. A cold beer street-side and a spicy bowl of scorch conch. Have we gotten too “evolved”, too “sophisticated”, that we have forgotten our oh so humble beginnings?
Sigh... maybe it’s just me. Maybe I sit alone on my rickety chipped paint bench on the side of the road of my mind, smelling the comforting aroma of hot oil, waiting for that crispy fish as I suck back a cold Kalik and savor the too hot “Conchy” conch fritters that you could buy with the change in your car. But then I will remain here alone, because some things, some memories, some pieces of culture, seem too precious to let slip away, to lose to time and modern conventions. But alas I must ask, if you are out there and feel the way I do…’wanna share an order of fritters?’
About the author:
Maurisa Glinton is a Grand Bahamian native. She is an Entrepreneur,
Chef and Writer. She has a B.A. in Psychology and Writing, as well as
Diplomas in Culinary Arts and Culinary Management. She is a Festival
Noel winner and the Head Chef/ Owner of
Butterfly Catering Services
Evidence of her passion for food and its surrounding culture comes across
clearly in her cooking and her writing. Maurisa is also the writer of
her own Food Blog,
. Maurisa currently
resides in Nassau and can be reached at
. You can also follow her on Twitter as
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