Short History of World-Renowned Street Foods


In today’s globalized world, different cultures, languages, and traditions continue to spread and mix with national cuisines. Wherever you go, you’ll be sure to find some delicious street food to whet your appetite.

Things like hotdogs, shawarma, sushi, and more have become global snacks that people in almost all countries can enjoy. But what’s the story behind their popularity?

1. Shawarma, Kebab, Gyro

In Greece, they have gyros; in Turkey — düner kebab; in Eastern Europe — shawarma. The names of these yummy dishes vary, as do the filling options, but the basis is the same — grilled, juicy meat, vegetables, sauce, and some flat, thin bread. In the middle of the XIX century, the Ottoman Empire, famous for its kebabs, came up with a vertical rotisserie grill, which has become a staple of modern street food carts. After World War II, another wave of immigrants from Turkey brought the popular recipe to Athens, where the dish was adapted and renamed gyros. Later the Greek immigrants brought gyros to the US in the 1960s and 70s, while Western Europe yoinked the original Turkish recipe and started selling doner kebabs. It’s still one of the most popular street foods in Berlin. Practically the same components wrapped in “lavash” are called durum kebab in Turkey and shawarma in the Middle East.

shawarma, kebab, gyros | Short History of World-Renowned Street Foods | Zestradar

2. Fish’n’Chips

What can be better than fried fish fillet with French fries chased down with some cold brew? Fish’n’chips have become a hallmark of English cuisine, and it’s all thanks to a 13-year-old lad from London. Joseph Malin bought some fried fish for dinner, and as you may know, fish goes great with potatoes. While probably contemplating what he’ll have for breakfast, Malin suddenly realized that he’s never seen fish and potatoes being served in pubs. The cogs in his head started clicking, and so a business idea was born. Soon, citizens of London saw a young boy selling his 2 in1 special “Fish’n’Chips” right on the street. At the beginning of the XX century, about 25 thousand restaurants in Great Britain had this snack on their menu.

3. Pizza

If we consider any round baked bread with filling to be a pizza, then pretty much every culture has something like that. For example, 2500 years ago, Greeks and Persians were the first to put oil and herbs on the cheese-covered dough. But if we narrow it down, you’ll see that the word “pizza” originated in Italy in 997, in the town of Gaeta. The oldest known document mentioning this word was a lease of a mill and land. It is believed that more modern pizza was born in Naples in the 18th-19th century. The locals baked two classic varieties: marinara — with tomato sauce, olive oil, oregano, and garlic, and margarita — with tomatoes, mozzarella, whipped milk, oil, and green basil.

Pizza | Short History of World-Renowned Street Foods | Zestradar

4. Sushi

Japanese people may be shocked by what we, westerners, call “sushi.” The original Japanese sushi recipe is thousands of years old. The fish was first well-salted and then covered with rice to start the fermentation process. It took months to get the ancient sushi to be ready for consumption, but on the upside, the fish could be stored for just as long. And the craziest part is that the rice was thrown away! The recipe came from China to Japan in the 8th century AD and was called Narezushi there. The taste was good, but many could not stand the specific smell. Think of the Swedish surströming for reference. As time passed, the Japanese realized that you didn’t need to leave the fish for that long, which made it stink less, and you could also enjoy the rice. A more modern take on sushi became a real pillar of Japanese cuisine in the 19th century, and thus the California rolls were born, along with disgusting supermarket sushi rolls and cucumber rolls. Just eat some rice, people.

Sushi | Short History of World-Renowned Street Foods | Zestradar

5. Hot Dog

Several people are credited with inventing the hot dog, but it was almost certainly a German immigrant who most likely had a great recipe for pork sausages, aka “frankfurter” in honor of Frankfurt am Main. These sausages got popular on the streets really fast, but there was a problem: how were the people supposed to hold hot weiners? The solution was quite elegant, as you can see today. The frankfurters in long buns quickly spread through the streets of America and then to other countries. But why call them “hot dogs”? The most plausible theory is that in Frankfurt, where this sausage was invented, people had a cute name for it — dachshund sausage. Now just put two and two together, and you’ll have a delicious hot dog.

Hot Dog | Short History of World-Renowned Street Foods | Zestradar

6. Ramen

Contrary to popular belief, ramen is not always instant and requires a bit more cooking skills than putting the kettle on. Naturally, this Japanese-sounding dish comes from China, and it became popular in Japan only about 100 years ago, when Chinese cuisine began to attract the world’s attention. When this dish first appeared in Japan, it was mainly sold in small street cafes called ramen-ya. Today, the noodle soup is still sold at ramen shops, but recently even fancy cafes and restaurants started serving their own take on the dish. Meanwhile, back in Japan, you can buy it in special vending machines, but of course, it’s not the same as homemade ramen.

Ramen | Short History of World-Renowned Street Foods | Zestradar