Long before thousands of people flocked to Raleigh’s Fayetteville Street for food truck rodeos, street food was a cultural institution from Mexico to Argentina.
Cary cookbook author Sandra Gutierrez fondly recalls her first bite of a hot, sweet churro from a vendor on the streets of Guatemala City where she grew up. Her mother didn’t cook but loved street food and would gather up her children on a whim to go out and satisfy a craving. Gutierrez said, “Those were my favorite days.”
Gutierrez, who has made a career as a cooking teacher and food writer translating Latin American food for American cooks, has tapped into her knowledge of that mobile cuisine with her latest cookbook: “Latin American Street Food.” Her first book event is Tuesday at Raleigh’s Quail Ridge Books, followed by more events across the Triangle.
Even though Gutierrez knew about street food before she started researching for this book, based on her own eating and traveling, she was surprised to learn what turned an enterprise that dates back to colonial times into a daily way of eating in many Latin American countries.
This is what she discovered: Until the mid- to late 1970s, many Latin American cultures permitted a 2-hour break so workers could go home to eat lunch. Gutierrez remembers such a midday commute as a schoolchild. But population growth in large cities, increased traffic congestion and the worldwide gas shortage in the late 1970s curtailed that tradition, and street food vendors multiplied to sell food to hungry city workers.
Gutierrez’s book offers a glimpse of the variety of food that ended up being sold on streets from Lima, Peru, to Mexico City. There are recipes for ceviche, tacos and tamales, sandwiches, food on a stick and even sweets. They illustrate both the diversity and similarities among Latin America’s 21 separate cuisines and reflect how immigrants from Japan to Italy ended up influencing some country’s food traditions.
In those recipes, home cooks can see Asian flavors creeping into Peruvian food with its fried squid ceviche, similar to Japanese tempura. There are Brazil’s black-eyed fritters called acarajes, which are descended from the akkras made by the Yoruba people in Nigeria and Benin. And what is likely the most famous Mexican taco, tacos al pastor with roasted pork and pineapple, is related to the Middle Eastern gyro – The meat for both dishes are roasted on a long upright spits and shaved directly onto the pita bread or tortilla.
“We eat our history in Latin America,” Gutierrez explained.
To see a printable recipe, click on link:
COMBINE tuna, lime juice, bell pepper, cilantro, tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and chives; stir well to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour (up to 4 hours.) Season with salt and pepper, and serve well chilled. Yield: 8 as an appetizer, 4 as a main course
Weigl: 919-829-4848, or on Twitter, @andreaweigl