Tuesday, July 8, 2014
A for Atmosphere
"Street food is not street food without the street."
That was what Anthony Bourdain drove home at the inaugural World Street Food Congress in Singapore a year ago.
Yes, sitting on a tiny little stool next to passing exhaust fumes in sweltering heat - some say that "adds" to the charm and experience of delicious morsels whipped up right on busy alleys. It could be an aromatic Bún Chả (grilled pork & noodle topped with lots of fresh herbs and leaves) in Hanoi, on tiny tables spilling onto into the streets. Or spicy Indian Mee Goreng from a late night mamak stall in Kuala Lumpur right next to the drain. Crisp lechon (whole pig roasted over charcoal) in sunny tropical Cebu. A cup of Tteokbokki (Spicy Rice cake noodles with fish cake) to eat on the go in Seoul. The varieties are endless.
You may even need to jostle for a place to eat with the locals at popular eateries. But the food is often inexplicably fresh and insanely delicious, making the effort to hunt them down more than worthy of a plane ticket and arduous pursuit.
Yet others clamour for air-conditioned comfort, plush seating and waitress action. A well-known Thai socialite brought all her favourite street food from the streets and into a restaurant setting, so she and her friends could enjoy their Pad Thai, boat noodles and curries in an environment conducive for tai-tais.
A beautiful restaurant setting can also enhance food enjoyment. You can eat more leisurely, be pampered by service staff, soak in the atmosphere carefully crafted by the decor, lighting and music. Chinese food amazingly does well across all scenes - street, casual and fine-dining - whether as zi char in a kopitiam, in a boisterous banquet style restaurant, or a posh and polished joint.
How do you like your food? With the blare of honking traffic or minus the sweat?
I like them all, although I find street food is often more memorable. I love a rundown scene, faded posters in foreign languages and the clatter of cooking utensils.
In the unforgiving heat and stuffy humidity, an icy glass of Coke or Sprite (Coke Zero for me!) always manages to perk me up. I'm always wilting and deflated in hot weather but Coke is the best relief when there is no air-conditioning. That's how I can keep going!
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