Time is right for munching in the street

A SHAMELESS PLUG. Well, kind of… Lonely Planet has recently published World’s Best Street Food. It includes contributions from notable food writers, including Tom Parker-Bowles, and travel writers. And me.

I wrote about some of my favourite dishes from the usual locations, including İstanbul’s fabulous balık ekmek (fish sandwiches), Bosnian burek (savoury pastries) and Croatian čevapčići (pictured above; actually those pictured are Macedonian, and accompanied by shopska salad).

In fact, both burek and čevapčići can be found in a multitude of different countries and varieties, all of them equally lip-smackingly, deliciously sumptuous. I’ve had burek for both breakfast (spinach variety) and lunch (mince and sweet onions) in a single day in Sarajevo, and have had just as good versions in Preston, Fitzroy and the Victoria Market in my hometown of Melbourne.

The most memorable čevapčići I’ve had were at the Dolac market in Zagreb. They were memorable for being so markedly fantastic (complete with flat bread and bitey raw onions); they were a dish I didn’t anticipate enjoying in a city that I didn’t anticipate liking: very wrong on both counts. But they’re just as sweet hot off the skara (grill) on the shores of Lake Ohrid in Macedonia, accompanied by ayvar (aubergine relish) on the sun-splashed isle of Pag, or at the Croatian Club in downtown Footscray (again in Melbourne).

I can’t help being curious about the fact that the diminutive name (čevap) sounds uncannily like the Turkish and Persian word for “answer” (cevap in Turkish, jevap in Persian), but I guess the root of the word is more likely a derivation of kebap (the ‘k’ softens to become a ‘ch’ or ‘j’, and the ‘b’ becomes a ‘v’).

World’s Best Street Food has received quite a lot of press attention worldwide. There is coverage in The San Francisco Chronicle, and a wrap up in The Guardian in London, which lists several of the book’s recipes, including my one for burek.

One dish that I wish I’d suggested to the editors is Uyghur polo. I first encountered this is Xinjiang last year, after submitting copy for the book. It’s a hearty bowl of stock-infused rice with mutton and vegetables. Like burek and čevaps across the Balkans and the eastern Mediterranean, polo (or pilau or pilav, depending on your predilection) comes in various combinations and permutations across several countries (in this instance, Central Asia; apparently it was a signature dish of the Bukhariot Jewish community in Uzbekistan). In some parts it includes dried apricots or slivered almonds, but what is distinctive about the Uyghur version is the inclusion of yellow carrots.

I had polo in Kashgar (one time for breakfast) and sought it out for lunch in Kargilik and Hotan (see picture). It’s not to everyone’s taste: some dismiss it as greasy, but I loved the muttony pungency of it and the sweetness of the braised (yellow) carrot. I’ll be sure to offer as an idea for the second edition of Street Food

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