Monday, 24 June 2019

Food in the Middle East, six: Street food

This is the sixth in a new series of blogposts based on the Middle East trip, which took placer mainly in May. In the first five posts in this series I talked about breakfasts, lunches and dinners in Jordan, sweets, pickles and olives, and lunches and dinners in Jerusalem. 

This blogposts will be short because of a decision I made with definitions. In Istanbul there are restaurants called “lokanta” that serve ready-made food which is displayed in the shop window. We ate at this kind of restaurant several times but I am not going to classify it as street food, although some might think that it is. In this current blogpost I am just going to talk about the kinds of fast food that you can get in Australia that you usually eat walking on the street (although, as you will see, sometimes these establishments have tables on the pavement for customers to use).

I didn’t see any street food establishments in Jordan, although some of the restaurants in Wadi Musa have tables set out on the pavement in front of the shop. In Jordan you normally sit down and order food and when it comes time to paying you ask for a “check” (a bill) that they bring to your table so that you can pay. Some restaurants in Australia use this system but in the main it is an American custom and all the proper restaurants we came across in the Middle East, including the lokanta, use it. With street food places you pay when they hand you the food and then you take it away, either to eat it while walking on the street or else to eat at one of the tables the shop staff have put on the pavement for paying customers to use.

I’ve already talked about the Jerusalem bagel shop in the post about breakfasts but I want to go back to it because it is precisely this kind of dining experience that is so popular with Israelis. The climate is such that in summer people are out late at night eating and talking and socialising. Although the bagel shop was open early in the morning to catch the breakfast trade, they also stayed open late as well to catch the dinner trade.

The bagel shop had a glass display window that doubled as a counter. Through the glass you can see a range of different dairy options as well as a few protein options (smoked salmon, tuna salad) and a range of different vege options. You had the choice with a standard bagel of a spread plus something else to put on top. The spread would be a dairy spread and the thing to put on top might be grilled eggplant or a salad. If you wanted to add one more option the price would go up slightly. In the back, attached to the wall behind the counter staff, were several baskets containing the different kinds of bagels on offer. You might choose (as I did) one with sesame seeds on it or you might choose a wholemeal bagel to have as your base. They also serve coffee made with an espresso machine. Outside in Ben Yehuda Street were tables where you could sit and eat your meal if you wanted.

Ben Yehuda Street is a pedestrian mall and so are some other streets surrounding it. At the bottom of it, toward the old city, is Jaffa Street, where the light rail runs. In the space between Jaffa Street and King George Street are these pedestrian streets with lots of restaurants, including (in the above photo) this chip shop (or, for US residents, a shop selling French fries). It’s called “King of Fries” and it also sells soft drinks. Below is another shop on the mall, a shawarma shop. In Australia shawarmas are usually called doner kebabs, to use the Turkish name for the dish. It is a disc of unleavened bread containing grilled meat – beef or chicken, in many cases – as well as salad items such as tomato and lettuce. 

In the photo below the man with the big hat is a religious Jew. You see men dressed in this kind of black 19th century suit, often with a Stetson or sometimes with a big, round hat like this, going about their business on a daily or hourly basis. The religious women who are married likewise cover their hair, either with a snood or with a tichel (scarf).

In Istanbul there are fewer street food vendors but there are a lot of these corn cob sellers (see photo below) with their carts along Divan Yolu Street up near Sultanahmet Plaza. They charge a few lira I guess but I didn’t ask. You can buy grilled corn cobs like this in Japan in summer from street vendors.

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