We chat to Alison and Shawn from Street Food about how to distinguish the best street fare from the rest, their first date that sparked a shared food curiosity and thoughts on fine dining versus cheap and cheerful.
Your About page is a great guide on how to find the best, most delicious authentic meals. Over how long and how many meals was this philosophy created?
We’ve been eating this way for a long time. After a lot of travel in Asia we developed a means of pretending we were still travelling by eating at the places that reminded us of being overseas, which isn’t hard in Sydney. Our philosophy was born out of post-travel blues, a lack of money and a respect for good people making great food.
You have the lowdown on how to find the best street fare. What are three tips for the beginner?
Before you order, look around and see what everyone else has. There might be one dish that's on every single table – that’s the one to get. Don’t be afraid to point and order exactly what someone else has, especially if you don’t speak the local lingo. Also, a busy place is usually a good place. Make sure you walk by at a few different times so you don’t miss out just because they were having a quiet spell. Finally, be adventurous and try new dishes or different versions as often as you can to broaden your tastes. You might just realise you love pork intestines!
Why do you love and celebrate street food as much as you do? Where was the romance sparked?
Travel ignited the fervour for street food. The way we had both travelled in the past was cheap and cheerful, with a love of culture and really finding out about classic food. In the '90s, Shawn had his magic moment eating ayam rendang in Sumatra and Alison got really hooked after her first stand-up ramen experience in Tokyo. On our first kinda date we had African in Newtown and, from then, our food affair together took off.
As you’re such fans of cheap eats, do you go much for fine dining?
We do go out for fine dining on special occasions, mostly with friends and big groups. In the end, we're usually left feeling like we paid for the tablecloth and paintings on the walls. We would love to see street food celebrated like in Singapore for the fine food experience it is alone, not transferred to a fine-dining setting and losing its heart.
You seem to have a penchant for Asian cuisines. Is this food you grew up with, or discovered later in life? What did you eat as children?
We both grew up on meat and three veg with the occasional local takeaway Chinese eaten at celebrations. It wasn’t until we left home that we started to eat like we do now, mostly due to student poverty. We continued our exploration of street food through travel and living in different parts of Sydney. We’ve considered adopting an Asian grandmother, just so we can claim a food pedigree and get hold of some of her cooking.
Eating out as often as you do, what does it take for a restaurant to really leave an impression?
Having dishes that are really unique and flavoursome. We hate to use the term "authentic" but where a dish has a good take on a traditional style for a fair price, we love it.