Chef and writer Anthony Bourdain once set out in search of the perfect meal. With a camera crew in tow and his knife-point wit, Bourdain roamed from Laos to Los Angeles eating at Michelin-starred restaurants, pit stops on the side of the road, and kitschy eateries in random places like Transylvania. After a year spent roaming the world, Bourdain found that the elusive perfect meal was less about a chef’s credentials, restaurant’s décor, or server’s attitude; instead, the perfect meal was about the experience of enjoying good company over good food.
I thought of Bourdain’s adventures as I took a bite of my first arepa con huevo in Colombia. The subtle crunch of the fresh arepa (a kind of masa dough flatbread) mixed with a just-cooked egg and fragrant salsas launched me into an existential crisis wondering how something so delicious could cost me less than a New York subway ride. What’s more, I’d had the pleasure of obtaining such economical bliss from a local institution. For 40 years, Elaine Gomez Lozano has been setting up her cart on the corner of Carrera 11 and Calle 38 in Cartagena’s Old City to sell her handmade arepas made fresh-to-order. Her street food is humble and unassuming as she flattens the masa and tosses the arepas in hot oil — but as street food goes, hers is Cartagena’s best.
Once considered the poor man’s meal, street food has become a culinary movement of its own as travelers look to the streets for the best representation of a country’s local fare. In South Africa the street food might be a curry-filled “bunny chow,” while in Argentina freshly grilled chorizo is served up in local parrillas. Whatever the meal, you can count on it to be no-frills, no-fuss, and down-to-earth good food handmade by talented locals.
Street food is redefining what it means to have a good meal as some of the most mouth-watering bites are being enjoyed without the trappings of a trained chef or polished silverware. Whether backpacking in Asia or vacationing in Europe, the following 10 bites are sure to be a contender for your “perfect meal.”
Arepas con Huevos: Cartagena, Colombia
In Colombia, the arepa has deep roots in the cuisine of the indigenous people and colonial farmers, making this small treat an important part of the country’s culinary fabric. Usually eaten for breakfast or lunch, Arepas con huevos are traditional in Colombia and can be likened to a crispy, round hot pocket with a sweet, corn exterior and cooked egg — often mixed with meat — on the inside.
Bunny Chow: Durban, South Africa
Despite what the name might suggest, bunny chow is a staple of the food scene in the South African city of Durban and is a chunk of hollowed-out bread filled with a variety of savory curries to choose from.
Nikki Vargas is a special contributor to The Daily Meal. You can follow her on Twitter @pinthemapprojct