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Taking it from the street

From Turkish kabobs and Greek gyros to Mexican tacos and Indian flatbreads, street vendors the world over have forever been selling hearty snacks-to-go. Now Americans have more options to sit down and enjoy these global foods—sometimes with knife and fork in hand.

Susan Feniger’s Street, Los Angeles

Sampling street foods is an invaluable window into a different culture, not to mention a great way to brainstorm menu ideas, according to Susan Feniger, chef-owner of Susan Feniger’s Street in Los Angeles.

Feniger’s numerous trips to places like India, Turkey, Israel, Vietnam, China and Mexico, the latter with business partner Mary Sue Milliken, with whom she co-owns the Border Grill restaurants in L.A. and Las Vegas, have provided ample inspiration for Street, her four-year-old street food concept and first solo project.

 “When you eat in neighborhoods, you experience a culture in a unique way,” says Feniger. “It is quite different from sitting in a restaurant.”

A three-day jaunt to China sparked the idea of a vegetarian dim sum menu for brunch at Street, which was a hit. Another travel-inspired favorite is Kaya Toast, with coconut jam, soft-cooked egg, dark soy and white pepper, reputed as a hangover cure in Singapore, Feniger says. Also popular are Tatsutage Chicken Bites, morsels of Japanese-style fried chicken served with a yuzu kosho dipping sauce akin to a spicy aioli, and Chicken, Bacon and Waffle Croquettes with spicy maple sauce, a dish with New Orleans roots.

“I think customers love exploring all these different flavors,” says Feniger. “They are very different choices than they would get in most other places around town.”

Susan Feniger’s Street Menu Sampler

  • Barbecue Jackfruit Bao: Hong Kong style steamed bun with homemade peanut hoisin and citrus salad $8
  • Shaved Kale and Brussels Sprouts: goat cheese and lemon picada $8
  • Curry Fries: fried yuca, niramish coconut curry sauce, pickled tomatoes, cilantro $6

Chai Pani, Decatur, Georgia

Chaat—Indian-style street snacks—are charming Atlantans at the brand-new Chai Pani restaurant in Decatur, Georgia. Inquisitive patrons are exploring everything from potato samosas over spicy garbanzo stew to Indian-inspired chili cheese fries and cumin-and-ginger-scented chicken burgers, reports Meherwan Irani, executive chef and co-owner, who grew up near Mumbai.

Irani says that his concept offers a broader spectrum of India’s regional cuisines than the Northern Indian-style restaurants, often serving buffets, which are typically found in the U.S.

For authenticity’s sake, Irani’s mother visited from India to school the staff in Indian cookery prior to the opening of the flagship Chai Pani, which opened in Asheville, N.C., in 2009. Although he maintains the integrity of the cuisine, he also finds ways to add Indian touches to familiar American ingredients and to upgrade traditional practices with modern kitchen gear. An example of the former is the Bombay Chili Cheese Fries, which sport potatoes dusted with masala spices and topped with traditional Indian spiced lamb hash and paneer cheese. With the help of a food processor he transforms chutneys, which are traditionally handmade, chunky condiments, into smooth sauces.

Patronage by Irani’s countrymen as well as non-Indian customers is validating the concept. “On any given Sunday now, there are almost as many Indians in Chai Pani as Americans,” says Irani. “And it is amazing because some of them are traveling for two to three hours to eat here.”

Chai Pani Menu Sampler

  • Bhel Puri: Puffed rice, flour crisps, crunchy chickpea noodles, cilantro and onions tossed with tamarind and green chutneys $6.49.
  • Kale Pakoras: Indian-style kale fritters made with curried chickpea batter, served with green chutney and sweet yogurt $6.99
  • Parsi Chicken Burgers: Ashley Farms ground chicken seasoned with cumin, ginger, chilies, mint and cilantro. Topped with chutneys and served on two toasted buns $8.99 

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