Exploring International Street Food: Top 5 Picks and How to Make Them at Home

A group of friends happily buying food from a street vendor at an outdoor market.
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Street food has a way of bringing people together from all walks of life. It’s also become more popular than ever, serving an important social and cultural role in cities across the world. With the right ingredients, you can bring some of your favorite street food staples home, for a rich culinary experience that’s equally comforting and festive.

There’s something ephemerally charming about authentic ethnic cuisine, especially during lively social events. Street food brings people together in a casual, unguarded setting, delivering novel tastes to locals and tourists alike. It’s something we’re very familiar with, having serve the ethnic grocery needs for the greater Naperville, Illinois, region for many rewarding years. 

Like nothing else, street food provides a glimpse of different cultural traditions in a universally appealing way, giving large populations the opportunity to partake in exotic cuisine without busting their wallets. The next time you visit International Fresh Market for your favorite ethnic food products, see which of the following popular selections stoke your appetite for something new.

Street tacos are widely considered the quintessential street food, but what’s less commonly known is how diverse tacos can be. Traditional Mexican tacos come in a wide variety, and some feature dual “pockets” or rolls to keep hot and cold ingredients separate.

Yet you can achieve a similar effect with regular taco shells, simply by layering cold ingredients on top of the hot, as follows:

  1. First comes the heated ingredients, most commonly spicy carne asada, al pastor (a pineapple-sweetened pork), and/or grilled veggies (commonly peppers, chilis, and onions)
  2. Your favorite salsa (whether warm, chilled, or somewhere in between)
  3. Toppings galore, such as lettuce, cheese, sour cream, and cilantro

You can also add a dash of seasoning, including chili powder, smoked paprika, or coriander. Some enjoy trying their hand at homemade tortillas, whether soft shelled or baked until nice and crispy.

Pad Thai was created to bring the Thai nation together after an intense and uncertain period of its history. Due to a shortage of fresh rice, Thailand’s new leader encouraged people to rely more on rice noodles. Using authentic Thai ingredients, Pad Thai quickly became a staple among locals and immigrants alike.

The hallmark of good Pad Thai is a rich and full flavor profile, featuring a delicate balance of:

  • Savory
  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Salty
  • Spicy
  • Tangy

You can customize Pad Thai’s flavor profile to your heart’s content by making your own at home. In fact, it’s as simple as combining the following ingredients:

  • Boil wide rice noodles until soft and chewy
  • Grill shrimp, tofu, and/or eggs with a zesty assortment of seasonal vegetables, most commonly shallots, garlic, onions, red bell pepper, carrots, zucchini, and yellow squash
  • Mix tamarind and/or fish past with basil, mint, and any other fresh herbs you like; you can then add chili powder, depending on how spicy you like it
  • Top the dish with crushed peanuts, cilantro, and/or mung beans for a crunchy and edible garnish

While not as well known in the USA, chaat is a wildly popular Indian and Pakistani street food. There are actually several varieties of chaat, primarily:

  • Pani puri, a type of crispy potato-chutney-stuffed dough, fried golden brown
  • Bhel puri, which is similar to pani puri, but with the addition of puffed rice (bhel)
  • Samosa chaat, with a typically more spicy pea and potato filling in a more flaky, chewy type of dough

Bring the authentic flair of Indian street food home with this fun and satisfying chaat recipe – and fill your kitchen with a rich and enticing aroma, while you’re at it:

  • Dice and boil potatoes
  • Mix together chutney, tamarind paste, and a rich assortment of hearty, aromatic spices that Indian cuisine is known for: cumin, coriander, chili, turmeric, carom seeds, amchur powder, and paprika are all good options
  • Chop and blend onions and green chilis with softened chick peas; depending on the time of year, you can fry the vegetables or serve them cold
  • Add mint leaves, fresh cilantro, cold diced tomatoes, chili flakes, and salt to taste

Now comes the fun part! Stuff these ingredients into a lightly fried and crispy puri, which you can find ready-made at International Fresh Market. Some people also enjoy their chaat with a side of thin yogurt, for a rich, creamy taste.

Shawarma traces its roots to the Ottoman Empire, and it’s become one of the most popular Middle Eastern street foods in the world. Often compared to gyros, shawarma features thin-sliced meat, spit-roasted to tender, juicy perfection, wrapped in thin pita-like bread (“shawarma” actually comes from a Turkish word meaning “turning”).

Some people use tortillas instead, but that’s unnecessary with a well-stocked international grocer. Making authentic shawarma at home involves a simple three-step process:

  1. Marinate, sear, and then slow-roast thin-sliced lamb, beef, turkey, or chicken – or purchase rotisserie-roasted meat from our skilled butchers
  2. Mix together your favorite grilled and/or pickled vegetables
  3. Wrap all the ingredients together into pita bread, then dip into your favorite Middle Eastern dipping sauce (many prefer tahini), and enjoy!

No street food experience is complete without sauté, such as takoyaki – a delicious dumpling filled with sautéed octopus, or sometimes tempura. The word actually translates to “grilled/fried octopus,” and it’s a common grab-and-go staple among Japanese street food vendors, supermarkets, and convenience stores.

Making takoyaki at home isn’t too hard, using a specialized pan designed to sear and fry the octopus or tempura using with just the right angles and heat distribution. You’ll find specialty takoyaki pans, woks, and other authentic food prep implements from around the world right here in our well-stocked cookware section.

For the dumpling, you’ll need an all-purpose flour (“dashi”), comprised of eggs, baking powder, salt, and soy sauce – or find a ready-made takoyaki mix right here at International Fresh Market. For dipping sauce, look for takoyaki sauce, unless you’d prefer something sweeter (try plum sauce) or basic soy sauce. You can also garnish takoyaki with red pickled ginger (aka beni shoga), for a dash of spice and color.

Street food always has something to offer those looking for new taste experiences or a dash of nostalgia. With the right recipes and ethnic food products on hand, you won’t even need to go out to enjoy the fun and flavor of a variety of popular street foods.

You might even consider hosting your own street food party, complete with regionally authentic music – and you never know if your culinary explorations may inspire dreams of becoming a street food vendor yourself! Visit International Fresh Market for any questions about specialty ingredients, and recreate your favorite street foods any time the mood strikes.

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International Fresh Market is a local, family-owned grocery store that serves the Chicagoland community.We are excited to serve the residents of Naperville, Aurora, Warrenville, Woodridge, Plainfield and the surrounding area!