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Where should one look for the best and tastiest recipes? Just go to the street corners of the world and look for the best street food: a local market, a souk, an improvised street stall in Europe or Asia. That’s what French chef, cookbook author and (foodie) travel photographer Jean-François Mallet suggests in his latest book, full of recipes and mouth-watering photos, Take Away, which has just been published in several languages, including English.
His around-the-world tour includes the best recipes from 26 different countries, which he gathered in a decade of travels – from Neapolitan pizza to eat folded over four times, to tomato bruschetta with anchovies and olive oil from the Boqueria in Barcelona, to the noodle soups from steamy kiosks in Shanghia, to takoyaki (octopus stew) purchased on the streets of Tokyo. There are also cheese and thyme sandwiches on the beaches of Bahia, Brazil, snails in Marrakech, spiced duck with coriander in alleyways in Vietnam, Crimean cherries bought at Eastern European stands, or sliced watermelon to beat the hot crowds in Mumbai.
From snacks to real meals, for Mallet, traveling is a culinary experience within everyone’s reach. The chef-photographer worked as cook all around the world, and his book accompanies each photograph with a recipe that allows readers to re-create their favorite dishes at home.
His credo? Forget the haute-cuisine of the world: there’s lots to learn from the authenticity and simplicity of the globe’s best street food. FDL wanted to know more.
Your book features 120 different recipes and locations from around the world, often extraordinary in their beauty and simplicity. What’s the secret of rendering street food so gourmet?
The great part about street food is that you can watch as it’s being prepared. So the customer can see how clean it is, and how the dish is being prepared. Variety is a key element of street food, but so is the simplicity: one can find both classic, local dishes as well as culinary creations. And most importantly, it’s accessible to everyone: easy to appreciate and never too expensive. The same recipe is often found in many different places and all you have to do is choose the place with the longest lines. I’d like to add that eating without dishes and cutlery is often a lot of fun.
Which country has the most amazing street food in your opinion?
Well, Asia in general – and more specifically, Thailand, Japan and Vietnam are my favourites. The cuisine varies from place to place and you can go a long time just by eating street food.
And your favorite recipe? Or rather, the one you’ve made most often at home?
Pho soup: it’s a Vietnamese specialty made from slices of veal or chicken, served with fresh herbs, noodles and rice. It’s complete, delicious, abundant and even healthy.
Do you think even the best chefs have something to learn from street food?
Of course: simplicity, tasty, and authentic. This is often the opposite of what we find in more “sophisticated” or technique-driven cuisines that we find in luxurious restaurants.
And what’s your next trip going to be?
I’m planning a trip to Uzbekistan, a Muslim country in Asia, where they drink vodka, thanks to a strong Soviet influence. I think I’ll find its cuisine very interesting.