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Beer Kiosk in Moscow

Beer Kiosk in Moscow

While street food in Russia cannot compare to the rich abundance of Singapore or China, it’s an ideal way to avoid the overpriced horrors of Russian restaurants–think $30 US for a simple salad in a cafeteria!

The street food isn’t cheap–blini (блин(ы)) thin Russian pancakes with meager filling cost about $5–but at least it does at least exist on every train platform and the street corners of each major city.  From mass-produced hot pockets (all under a dollar), to home-made pirogi (пироги) and house-dried fish, Russian street food offers travelers a means of trying traditional food at affordable prices. And, for beer drinkers, the kiosks selling beer and packages of dried fish are legitimately cheap–$0.85 for a Baltika.

Pelmeni and Flat Pierogi

Pelmeni and Flat Pirogi

From train kitchens to road-side stops, pirogi (пироги) , fried dough balls stuffed with a variety of fillings, are always a cheap bet (under $2) for lunch. And with the exception of the stale, organ-meat filled pirogi that I bought unknowingly in the Lake Baikal area, all the many pirogi we ate were at least edible, with stuffings ranging from dill and potatoes to cabbage and hot dogs. For a different meat-stuffed dough, pelmeni (пельмени), sometimes called vareniki (варе́ник[и]), Russian dumplings, were found in some street stand and were always among the cheapest things on a menu. These dumpling came topped with sour cream or accompanied by ketchup as a dipping sauce.

Kvass Stand

Kvass Stand

Through out Russia, the drinks of choice ranged from cognac and vodka to lighter alcohols like the ever-present Baltika lager. But, for those too young to drink, or those needing a break from the demanding schedule of toasts and shots of liquor, kvass (квас), a fermented bread drink filled the void.

Russian-style Hot Dog

Russian-style Hot Dog

Tasting sweet and yeasty like a Belgian triple, I found this mildly alcoholic beverage (>1% alcohol) less than thirst-quenching.  But it helps wash down the Russia-style hot dogs–boiled dogs topped with cabbage (how Russian!) and sweet, red sauce.

We relished blini (блин(ы)) for the simplicity of their fillings and the clear ability to detect exactly what we’d ordered! Little orange balls? Clearly roe (икра), though call it caviar if you want to lunch to sound posh. Melted white goo? We’d scored with cheese (сыр). Like a crepe, the fillings came in both the sweet and savory categories–our favorite being the traditionally Russian sour cream and honey.

Blini Stand

Hot Pocket Stand

At un-refrigerated stands, dry open-faced sandwiches prevailed, with a choice between salami or smoked salmon. While salmon is Russia has a great reputation, I could never bring myself to try a sun-cooked salmon sandwich…maybe that’s more of a winter sandwich choice.

Dry, Expensive Salami Sandwich

Dry, Expensive Salami Sandwich

For those of us living in the US, where smoked fish conveys an elegant brunch-like luxury, the abundance of home-smoked, as well as mass-produced, dried, fish is overwhelming. Fish as a snack to accompany beer is the Russian equivalent of buffalo wings or chips and salsa. And once you get over the strangeness of cutting into a giant smoked fish as you sip your Baltika, or learn to peel a handful of small fish before throwing them into your mouth, the salty, brininess becomes quickly addicting. Though I can safely say, even the tastiest fish needs to be thrown out after an hour of sitting in a stuffy Russian train.

Dried Fish and Beer

Dried Fish and Beer

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So it turns out…

…that Russia has comically terrible internet connections outside Moscow, there are no computers in Mongolian gers, and China blocks wordpress. But, I’m in Nepal now and happily at a computer so I’ll begin catching up on all the great street food I’ve tasted, relished and snagged recipes for.

Heaven in Queens

Since discovering Jim Leff’s posting on Street Food in Jackson Heights, I’d been fantasizing about a stroll down Roosevelt Ave tasting these delectable treats—from tacos to elote, and quesadillas to arepas I was hooked at the idea of this street food heaven

We began with a carnitas quesadilla topped with spicy green salsa at a cart just off Roosevelt. The tortilla was freshly made from a bucket of dough by the vendor’s side and the carnitas had the perfect balance of fatty and crispy meat. For $2 a quesadilla we were off to a great start

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Further down the road, we ate Equadorian beef stew cooked in a meaty broth of onions, potatoes, peppers and plantains. The portion was filling ($6) but as we were on a street food crawl we didn’t finish.

As we continued up Roosevelt, the juice man enticed us with freshly squeezed ginger-sugar cane juice. The sweetness of the sugar cane was nicely balanced by the tang of ginger.

The al pastor taco at Taco Veloz was much sweeter than my recipe but had a requite kick that has us wishing we’d ordered more.

We finished the crawl off with a roasted corn slathered with mayo and cheese. A messy but satisfying end to the walk as our quest for the delectable sounding obleas had eluded us and the roast pig man was no where in sight. The elote vendor explained that the yellow corn was sweet while the while corn wasn’t. Being the end of the summer and the end of sweet corn season, it was the yellow ear I ordered.

Bald Peanuts?

Bald Peanuts on the Dock

When I first heard my uncles rave about “bald peanuts”, I imagined Mr. Potato Head-like legumes with receding hairlines. It was only after my first taste of these soft, briny nuts, while sitting on Folly Beach in South Carolina, that I realized my uncles, in their southern drawls, had been talking about “boiled” peanuts.

Sign for Timbo's Peanuts

These nuts are typically southern and have become the official snack food of South Carolina and a beloved Charleston street food. They’re made from “raw” or “green” peanuts that are full-sized, but not completely dry, which are boiled for 2-4 hours in salted water. Sometimes other flavors are added to the brine, such as beer, ham or spices. While the smaller peanuts have a nuttier flavor the larger nuts take on a bean-like flavor and texture. So this Tuesday David and I decided to taste Timbo’s boiled peanuts, reputed to be the best in Charleston.

Timbo's Boiled Peanuts in Charleston, SC

Timbo mans his graffiti-covered boiled peanut stand, nestled beneath the drooping oaks of highway 61, everyday but Tuesday—although the stall is still open. He sells three flavors: original, ham and Cajun for $3 a pound. Cajun, a blend of Tabasco, red pepper, and slices of jalapenos is mildly spicy and leaves your lips tingling. It’s Timbo’s most popular flavor.

The flavoring doesn’t permeate the actual nut, but rather it flavors the salty boiling liquid, the shell, and imparts an aroma as you chomp on this perfect summer snack. When we tasted each of the three flavors, it was only by cracking the whole shell in our mouth, not the individual nut, that we could differentiate flavors.

So, how do you eat a “bald” peanut? You throw the whole peanut in your mouth, crack it gently with your teeth and suck the briny, flavored liquid out. Then, grab the shell, open it up and eat only the nuts inside. Their saltiness (and spiciness) makes them the perfect partner to a frosty beer.

When I moved back from China in 2003, I had forgotten how to communicate in English (I couldn’t really speak in Chinese either) and I craved Chinese street food. I spent hours on the internet tracking down recipes, testing the authenticity of cookbooks I discovered, and traipsing from Brighton Beach to Manhattan and Queens and back again to indulge in the flavors I missed. I had some hits and misses (one miss involving a very hungover friend and a 45 minute subway ride on the Q train and some dismal food) and some delicious rewards. And while these experiments were fun, I would have killed for this brilliant interactive map and feature in today’s NY Times about the Chinese food in Flushing.

Chinese street food is clearly a popular topic for a newspaper feature as the Olympics are around the corner and hundreds of previously uninitiated tourists are about to taste Chinese street food for the first time. The Star wrote a Beijing Street Food Top 10 List. While I don’t think a list of ten can do Chinese street food justice, this list does show the brilliant breadth of Beijing street foods and its origins from Xinjiang to Wuhan.

I used to work in fashion (before I quit my job last month) and a big part of my job was figuring out what trends would take off and ensuring we had enough inventory to support those sales. I’m no longer concerned about fall’s hem-length, but having recently seen a slew of street-food inspired restaurants open and TV programs exploring exotic street dishes launched, I’m quite certain we’re in middle of a street food trend.

Some of the street-food inspired events, news and restaurants that seem worth checking out…

Slow on the Go: Alice Waters is bringing her Slow Food Nation to Fort Mason and the Civic Center in San Francisco. With events over Labor Day weekend that promote sustainable, fresh, and organic street food, the $45+ tix don’t seem too expensive.

The New York Times has reviewed sweet mobile treats in its $25-and-under dining section and a few weeks ago wrote a round-up of fried milk street foods around the globe.

In San Francisco, Kasa Indian Eatery opened to rave reviews, introducing Bay Area foodies to kati rolls—an Indian burrito-like street food staple. Further north in Portland, Andy Rickter is the chef at Pok Pok which serves Thai street food and won the 2007 Portland Restaurant of the Year. Great blog post about Andy at the rambling spoon.

In NYC, Tuck Shop sells authentic Aussie street food—meat pies—in midtown and Macondo, named after Gabriel García Márquez’s fictional town in One Hundred Years of Solitude, recently opened downtown serving up-scale Latin American street food. Check out this Times article to create one of Macondo’s cocktails. If it’s Venezuelan street food you’re craving however, East Village staple Caracas still impresses. And I’m pretty much willing to sell my soul for the recipe of their spicy sauce…

Al Jazeera has a program exploring street food around the world and if you don’t have access to that channel, check out the shows online. And of course with the Travel Channel’s No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain, there’s no lack of street food programming.

If you’re in Jackson Heights, Jim Leff has created a Google map of obscure street food.

And if none of these street eats are nearby, enjoy Thomas Swick’s ode to street food.

From hogs roasting in back yards to roadside, mobile smokers, BBQ is a central Texas specialty. But with only one day in this roast meat heartland, I needed to taste what Gourmet magazine ranks one of the best joints…even if it wasn’t necessarily street food.Smitty's Meat Market

Entering Smitty’s Market on a 98-degree day is like visiting hell on the way to heaven, and the ultimate reward surpasses any promised paradise. A line weaves from the door through the smoke room where open fires are constantly stoked, ensuring an endless supply of cooked meats for the waiting customers. Smitty's Smoke Room

The menu is simple: Cold Sausage, Hot Sausage, Lean Beef (Shoulder), Fat Beef (Brisket), Pork Chops, Prime Rib, Pork Ribs. You can order by slice, rib or pound and your meat is wrapped in thick butcher paper with Butter Krust sliced white bread thrown on top.

Smitty's Condiment Bar

Clutching our paper-wrapped meat, we made our way into the blissfully air-conditioned dining room, where large communal tables were packed with diners devouring their sandwiches. As you enter this second room, there is a counter of condiments where you can buy homemade pickles and peppers, cheeses and avocados, and a selection of side dishes from a tangy, sharp slaw to meaty, but bland, baked beans. This is where the local regulars turn their orders into handcrafted, customized sandwiches.

Smitty's Meat

We ordered two ribs, ½ a pound of fat beef, and two hot sausages and started with the ribs. They were some of the best I’ve ever had: smoky, slightly sweet and caramelized on the outside but meaty with no cloying BBQ sauce to intrude on the flavor of well-seasoned pork.

The sausage, wrapped in a slice of Butter Krust was rich, juicy and spicy with a satisfyingly taught skin. Topped with the homemade, not-so-hot hot sauce (found on the table) I fell in love with the unadulterated flavors of slow cooked, smoky meat.

The brisket was good but not near the top of my list…it was tougher than I expected with less flavor that the other meats we ordered. The fat beef was good but it needed a compliment—when I looked round at the other tables I understood the beauty of the condiment bar. Clearly we were the out-of-towners—the tattooed bikers sitting next to us were attacking their stacked sandwiches of meat, cheese, avocado, pickles and hot sauce.

Were I to return, I’d probably spend more time at the condiment counter trying the myriad sandwich variations, but with just one meal to enjoy I wanted to eat my smoke-infused meat without any distraction…except of course for my two-dollar Lone Star beer.

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Smitty’s Market

208 South Commerce
Lockhart, Texas 78644

Telephone: 512-398-9344

Mon-Fri 7am – 6pm
Sat 7am – 6:30pm
Sun 9am – 3pm