Global culinary travels at home with My Street Food Kitchen »
UK food writer Jennifer Joyce takes us on a street food tour around some of her favourite countries
By Robyn Lewis
I didn't expect to like this book as much as I do. Having lived in Asia for years, and eaten from and watched stall vendors cook their one special dish to perfection, year in year out, I know how hard it is to achieve even half their level of expertise. Unattainable was the thought that was going through my mind when I looked at the cover.
However, nearly all of us love to travel, and part of the joy is discovering new dishes, flavours, combinations and ingredients that we've never tried or perhaps seen back home. And then on return, recreating some of them as edible souvenirs, or to impress our friends (the pressure will be on for friends of mine touring Spain's best restaurants and tapas bars when they return!)
And now we're mostly a lot more competent in the kitchen, familiar with multicultural ingredients and techniques. The humble roti canai maker is now a star on TV, and we can see in detail how he or she does it, thanks to the likes of chefs Rick Stein, Kylie Kwong, Luke Nguyen, Jamie Oliver and more touring the world, film crew in tow, finding culinary treasures and interviewing hitherto unknown stars.
This isn't an option for most of us, however, which is where My Street Food Kitchen comes in. Jennifer Joyce has done the touring, testing and sorting, and brings us a collection of her faves from the Americas, Mediterranean, Middle East, South East Asia, India, China and Taiwan, Japan and Korea. (This wide range didn't sound promising to me at first either – too much going on, I thought – but as I got into it, the book is more like a collection of personal faves that pretending to be an in depth coverage of them all).
"Why buy another cookbook when you can just download recipes off the internet?" asks my 11 year old daughter (a question which may not bode well for cookbook publishers in future). They're for inspiration, I explained to her, plus a bit of travel dreaming in the case of My Street Food Kitchen. And here you can just pick a continent and dream on, without getting overwhelmed.
Plus you don't know what to Google if you haven't heard of something before. Would I have ever thought of Kaleslaw if I hadn't read it here? Probably not.
And so to the recipes:
Joyce grew up in America, so some of her national treasures come first. We've probably all heard of Buffalo Chicken Wings, and the internet is full of tips ("a Buffalo wing or Buffalo chicken wing in the cuisine of the United States is a chicken wing section that is generally deep-fried, unbreaded, and coated in vinegar-based cayenne pepper hot sauce and butter" says Wikipedia), but would I have thought of serving them with a blue cheese dip on the side? Probably not.
There are lots of other sticky baked and fried things from the US of A, and I have to say I wasn't too fired up about this section, although for someone who knows nothing about American cooking it's probably a good introduction, and the Peach and Raspberry Mini Pies from Joyce's home state of Wisconsin look like a good way of tempting children to eating summer fruit, should incentive be needed.
But then she crosses the border into Mexico and a flirtation with South America, and things started to heat up. There are a million ceviche recipes on the net too, but her Tres Ceviches from Peru is designed for barramundi or halibut, and with added fresh pineapple is more a lunch salad. (Creative Queenslanders – add some macadamias and quandongs and make this your own!)
Ditto Piri Piri Prawns, which seem to be found wherever the Portuguese colonised the tropics – hers are from Brazil, and are very easy. There's also a Brazilian Churrasco with Three Sauces, and an authentic looking Mexican Tacos Al Pastor with Pineapple and Smoky Ancho Chilli Salsa, for which you'll need to add some annatto if you want the authentic street stall colour and flavour.
I also like the way Joyce adapts the recipes to the indoor kitchen. Much street food involves lots of smoke and flames, which is great if you have super high ceilings, a good fan and don't mind your smoke alarm having hysterics, but for the rest of us she provides alternative methods, such as her take on Grilled Fish Tacos with Mango Salsa and Chilli Crema. Others such as Peruvian Antichuchos (chicken skewers) are better suited to the barbecue.
There's a very easy Passionfruit Mousse in this section too, cleverly held together on a biscuit base, like a cheesecake without the cheese. Easy spring or summer entertaining that you can make ahead.
Next is the Mediterranean and Middle East: also easy and delicious are the Santorini Tomato Fritters with (dill flavoured) Yoghurt; Bruschetta Five Ways and Prawns with Chorizo, Chilli Lemon and Parsley. The Sicilian Vinegar Chicken is their take on sweet and sour, and from the same region comes Salmoriglio Lamb Skewers with Caper Mint Sauce. For those dreaming of a trip to Sicily, you can start right here.
Got some pumpkin, feta cheese and filo pastry? Joyce gives her version of filo pastry triangles, common snacks around the Middle East. There's quite a lot in here for vegetarians, including Fried Eggplant Sticks with Sumac and Honey; the Turkish Black-eyes Pea Salad with Dill, Pickled Peppers and Pomegranate Molasses, and Roasted Beetroot with Pistachio and Lemon Herb Dressing.
Meat lovers will enjoy the fried pasty parcels Turkish Gozleme with Minced Lamb; Saffron Chicken and Cherry Tomato Kebabs; Spicy Lamb Pide; and the Chermoula, Tomato and Fish Tagine from Morocco.
So to Asia. The China and Taiwan section focusses on 'hot and sour with special salt'. The latter packs umami flavours and often chilli hits too, such as the Special Salt Prawns with Crispy Garlic, Onions and Chilli; Kung Pao, the blistering Szechuan stir-fry takeaway classic aka Gunpowder Chicken with Dried Chillies and Peanuts; and Five-spice Duck Legs with Pancakes (you just buy the pancakes ready made).
Japan and Korea recipes include Spicy Tuna, Avocado and Rocket Sushi; Korean Flied Chicken Wings with Spicy Chilli Glaze, various dumplings and noodles, and a delicious sounding Tonkatku Pork with Tangy Slaw, a Tokyo takeaway favourite and easy to make at home.
Joyce adapts many recipes from deep-frying to shallow frying, which may be less authentic but is easier to manage at home, especially if you are not cooking for a crowd. She also provides a range of authentic sauces, and a very garlikcy Kimchi. Cleanse the palate afterwards with a Lychee and Ginger Granita with Raspberries.
To Vietnam and we find the ubiquitous spring rolls, a delicious Caramelised Salmon Salad with Coconut Dressing, free range Chicken with Tamarind Sauce, Shallots and Pickled Chillies, and of course a pho, here as Short-rib Beef and Rice Noodle Soup.
I'm very wary of anyone trying to emulate Thai street food at home, as it's one of the most complex cuisines in Asia, but a big improvement on a jar of green curry paste is Joyce's Prawn Green Curry with Bamboo Shoots, which anyone can make at home if you can get the ingredients (needs fresh galangal). There's also a Perfect Pad Thai, which she assures us can be done if you cook it in small batches and make sure the noodles are still firm when they go into the wok.
And what Thai recipe collection would be complete without a Tom Yum, here made with Coconut Prawn and Pineapple, truly one of the most delicious flavour combinations on earth. There's also Kai Yang, a north eastern speciality found in almost all night markets of Bangkok – barbecues spicy chicken served with a chilli dipping sauce.
Malaysia is a real melting pot of cuisines, with influences from Indonesia, India, Arabia, China and Thailand, as well at a touch of Portuguese and British. Street food here includes Malay Coconut Fish with Lime Leaves and Cucumber Relish, but disappointingly there's no chicken satay or murtabak, two of my faves. Instead of sticky rice desserts or gula Melaka for a sweet hit, Joyce brings us Tropical Fruit Crisp with a Coconut and Cashew Crumble, which although not authentic, has the right fruit flavours, especially when mangoes are in season.
Lastly to India, another home of street food, with Red Onion Bhaji – easy deep fried chickpea flour snacks – various dips, a Cauliflower and Tomato Curry; Grilled Seafood with Goan Masala Paste; Sweet and Sour Chickpeas and many more to whet the appetite for spices, and Mango Lassi Iceblocks to cool down afterwards.
Every section has a few pages on 'extras and simple sides' and at the end there's Tricks of the Trade: How to Cook like a Pro at Home, which is pretty basic but you might pick up something to take your food to the next level, especially if you're a beginner.
David Thompson this is not – don't expect this book to become a culinary and cultural bible like Thai Street Food, Mary Taylor Simeti's Sicilian Food or Jane Lawson's Zenbu Zen. But it's far more approachable that Thompson (and about a third of the weight!) and gives you a taste of your travels, whether real or armchair. What you do get are achievable recipes that are a mix of the basic and a few surprises thrown in, plus some you'd never think to look for on the internet. More Jamie Oliver than Rick Stein, and far more attainable than I was expecting at the outset.
In the end, I liked it a lot, and it would be a great gift for a young culinary adventurer about to head overseas, or recently returned. Barbecue lovers and those looking for casual entertaining ideas will enjoy it too, and anyone looking for a taste of summer and the tropics, whatever time of year.
My Street Food Kitchen by Jennifer Joyce is published by Murdoch Books (Sydney, NSW; 2015; hc, 272 pp) and retails in Australia for RRP A$$39.99
It can be purchased online (also in ebook) via Booko.com.au here »
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