With the publication of Susan Feniger's Street Food: Irresistibly Crispy, Creamy, Crunchy, Spicy, Sticky, Sweet Recipes, Gourmet Live invited the ebullient globetrotting ambassadress of street eats to share the backstory to her new collection of personal travel tales and 80-plus recipes. Read on for Feniger's reminiscences plus recipes for some cool food from hot climes to spice up your summer: Burmese Gin Thoke Melon Salad, Indian Curried Sweet Potato Pancakes, and Thai Tea Pudding with Lime Caramel and Candied Cashews.—Ed.
My love of street food dates back to high school. I took my first trip to Europe in 9th grade, traveling on my own to live with a family on a farm in Holland. My Dutch sisters and I would ride our bikes into the tiny town nearby, and on Sundays, there was this very old woman frying French fries on the street and serving them in a paper bag with a big dollop of mayonnaise. She'd give us that with half of a lemon—wow! That was amazing way back then, and that's still how I eat my fries!
Fast-forward to my first trip to India more than 30 years ago, where in Poona I tasted a fermented urad daal pancake (using the white interior of the urad bean) with chopped tomatoes, cilantro, and chiles. OMG, that was incredible. And many more trips followed, where I tasted the most amazing food on the streets of India, the streets of Turkey, Mexico, Vietnam. I have to say, although all my training was in the French kitchen, my inspiration for food, for people, for my absolute passion, came from walking the streets and eating, talking, and learning about life in other countries. The desire to tell these stories through words and food is what propelled me to do this book.
Way back in 1982, my business partner, Mary Sue Milliken, came back from Thailand and made this incredible Thai melon salad…right off the streets of Bangkok! I couldn't believe how fantastic it was. It used lime leaf, palm sugar, garlic, chiles. The Burmese Gin Thoke Melon Salad in my new book is similar, in that it's a savory and sweet combination, like so many Southeast Asian dishes. In this recipe, we use a savory marinade for the melon of soy sauce, tons of ginger, lime, and a touch of sugar, then finish it with toasted coconut, peanuts, and lime leaf. I just adore that salty-and-sweet—it's really exactly what I love!
My love of India, as I said, has been with me for more than 30 years. Everything about India—the smells, the colors, the jewelry, the color of the spices in the markets, the taste of cumin, turmeric, fennel, curry neem leaf—speaks to me. It's as though I had another life there before this one, honestly. From my first step off the plane in Mumbai on my very first trip, I fell in love with this country and have never fallen out of love with it. The Curried Sweet Potato Pancake recipe is an homage to India and its flavors, using a common curry blend that's easy to create at home.
What can I say about Thai tea—who doesn't love this? At the restaurant, we serve Thai Tea Pudding not only with the lime caramel and candied cashews my recipe calls for but also with a lime leaf candy. Once again, it's taking something that you don't expect and then surprising the palate with the flavor combinations.… Dig into these recipes and see where the street leads you.
Susan Feniger's taste for travel is reflected on the menu at Susan Feniger's Street (Hollywood) and the three Border Grill eateries (Los Angeles, Santa Monica, and Las Vegas) and Border Grill Truck and kiosk she co-owns with Mary Sue Milliken. A trailblazer on food TV with Food Network's Too Hot Tamales (1995–99), Feniger has more recently appeared on Season 2 of Top Chef Masters. Susan Feniger's Street Food, written with Kajsa Alger and Liz Lachman, is her sixth book.