Street Food History: A story of poor beginnings to world domination

  • Street food history is a colourful & Interesting road

  • Developed as nutritional, cheap food for the poor

  • 2.5bn people currently eat Street Food daily

  • Street Food wwas distinct depending on what country you were in

  • Grown from the Street to the restaurant environment

Street Food history is rich and vibrant, telling the story of the age-old vendor driven type of food that has roots in history that mirror the development of urban centres and revolve around need and necessity of the time.

Street Food VanIn the 21st century, Street Food is inherent in our everyday lives. We see it on our streets, in our bars and restaurants, in stands at sports events, yet very few people are aware of its diverse development, let alone its interesting beginnings. Street Food is embedded in our modern culture, yet most people know very little about it.

Street Food Street Food is typically a type of offering made on the street or in a market in clear view of the public. It was traditionally cheaper than fast food with the opportunity for it to be sold to eat on the go. However, in recent years a Street Food inspired restaurant culture has grown exponentially and the traditional rules no longer apply. Now-a-days, Street Food can be sold from a cart, van, stall, kiosk, or at a 5-star dining establishment.

Cooking with a WokIn today’s society, Street Food is one of the most common eating choices in the world and most people don’t even realise it. 2.5bn people engage with some form of street food as they go about their daily routines whether it is falafel, arepas, pretzels, or hot dogs, there are no end of opportunities to enjoy delicious Street Food in daily life.


Street Food history shows us that it can be traced as far back as Ancient Greece. Due to the structure of dwellings at the time, there were no ovens or methods for cooking in the home, so street vendors sold small portions of fried fish which the public bought as their staple daily diet.

This tradition spread outwards to the Romans where the practice was transformed into a range of new and delicious dishes. There have even been the remains of Street Food stalls found during the excavation of Pompei. These took the form of street-based mini-kitchens that faced directly onto the street to entice and serve passing citizens.

Like the Greeks, there were no cooking facilities in residential homes so these kitchens, named “thermopolia”, provided tasty, affordable food for the masses.

From there, Street Food evolved in parallel alongside the development of society. The idea being taken to all corners of the globe, which each subsequent civilisation adding their own twist, spin or culinary influences however always maintaining a direct connection with the public to whom the dishes are aimed.

During the Middle Ages, large urban areas were a wash with Street Food stalls. Similar to the thermopolia these stands sold affordable, ready-to-eat food for the lower income end of society who needed cheap, nutritious, readily available sustenance.

Who could have foreseen that out of this necessity drive offering would come some of the most well-loved foods of modern times.

In Paris, Street Food vendors developed the “pâtés”, or “pâstés”, which we are all familiar with today. Parcels of pastry containing hot fillings of stewed beef and vegetables. These were developed for the need of labourers to have a meal that they could consume whilst working that had no need for cutlery.

The development of these Street Food delights would eventually lead to the dawn of the “patisserie”. During France’s period of enlightenment, these savoury pastries would become the glory of the upper-class circles, laid out at banquettes filled with the likes of truffles and foie gras.

However, on the other side of the channel, the very same Street Food was eaten during the industrial revolution by English miners and factory workers. However, their offerings were designed so that the filling could be eaten and then the crust thrown away as it would often be soiled with coal or oil from the workers hands.

Unsurprisingly, the most common form of Street Food is the humble sandwich. Two pieces of bread with some form of meat or filling in the middle, ideal for grabbing and eating on the go. Even the sandwich, with its street vendor beginning has gone on to develop to a variety of incarnations over time including hot dogs, hamburgers, cheese buns, arepas, bao nuns and more.

In Britain, a mirroring of the ancient Greek Street Food of choice, the fried fish, has been stepped up and become a authentic national institution. Fish and Chips are now sold in almost every neighbourhood in the UK and, although no longer wrapped in day old newspapers, the Street Food is a staple of British culture that will last eternal.


Every nation throughout time has developed its own Street Food offerings for consumption by the public.

Street Food Around the world

In Asia, Street food still has a very high place in daily life, with many Street Food markets populating busy urban centres providing the widest variety of offering. Historically, Asian Street Food, as with most countries, was developed out of the need to feed the poorer of society at low cost, however even the most notable in Asian society would partake in Street Food, however they would never grace the markets with their own presence so they would send the servants to purchase the food and bring it back to them. Much like a centuries old Uber-Eats.

Asian Street Food Market

Egyptian street vendors would sell lamb kebab, rice and even fritters and the ancient Aztec societies are thought to have provided a form of gruel made from maize as an on-the-go offering.

Whether it is French fries in Europe or jellied eels in London, every nation has developed its own Street Food across the centuries.

Street Food

Now, the nationalised idea of Street Food has all but disappeared and it is just as easy to get a lamb kebab in England as it is to get Fish and Chips in Egypt. Let’s just all be thankful that jellied eels don’t seem to have survived into the modern Street Food revolution.


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“Street Food History: A story of poor beginnings to world domination”

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