Introducing street food
Why is street food so popular and ubiquitous in Sicily? Is it a reminiscence of the many occupying powers? Or is it a direct result of the abundant raw material? Some suggest it’s the sea breeze, some even hint at a secret society. Just to be sure we’re talking about the same subject: street food is ready-to-eat food sold on the street or public space. The vendor is supposed to do something with the food. Heating, assembling, roasting, as long as it is more than mere wrapping up.
It's the economy, stupid
Street food is cheap. Many itinerant sellers work without regulation. In the Deep South people tolerate this. Whenever a food chart is sequestered for not having the papers in order – or not having any papers at all – public outrage follows. Why bothering with these poor people? They bring joy and satisfaction. Why don’t you arrest some serious criminals? The health and safety? What a joke! These hawkers do after all steal nobody else’s job. Right?
It's the climate.
Far less disputable is the weather. Selling food in the pouring rain jeopardize success. And it makes the eating pretty demanding. Sunshine not only enhances the mood, it invites to go out. While you’re out, you eat. Even if you are not hungry, the smell emanating from them stalls make you want to eat. It’s nature.
All of Sicily’s popular street food has a tradition. Not that anybody cares who and when they were invented. The tradition -as culinary tradition usually is- goes from one to another generation. You grow up with these tastes, they are a part of the culinary heritage. Any change in preparation takes time, and is looked upon with suspicion. That is the reason why most people eat at their trusted cart and not just anywhere. Surprise is not what you are looking for when purchasing street food.
It's the grubbiness
This is an often heard statement in Sicily, especially in Palermo. Whether this is to justify the poor health conditions or it really adds to the final taste, I do not know. One could do some empirical research and compare. If you are the one, let me know. Just as it happens with the city, people don’t seem to care. I heard somebody claiming that a bit of litter doesn’t disfigure the beauty. If you’d do the same with a Northern city he added, it would be ruined. Street food is so delicious it cannot be ruined by old oil or greasy grills. Apparently.
Evolution of street food
Great chefs and gurus (ahum) now show interest in street food. Some tried to improve it adding new ingredients. Some lift it up to culinary acceptance. Truth is that street food belongs on the street. And a chef -nor guru- have any business there. Well, except for business itself of course. So beware of fancy imitations.