There’s an Armenian saying, “achkeh dzag,” which I was often accused of growing up. Literally translated, it means “hole in the eye” but its figurative meaning is “insatiable.”
When I saw food, I wanted it. No matter that I had just eaten, or I wasn’t hungry, I wanted to try everything. It’s still the same now, especially when I travel and discover something new.
It’s beyond my control. When I smell crispy fried smelt by the Bulgarian seaside, being sold to sunbathers in cones made of newspaper; when I see a Neapolitan teenager hop on her boyfriend’s Vespa, dripping Baci gelato in one hand, I want what they have.
And I have an irrational fear that if I don’t buy it at that moment, I will never get the chance to sample it again. The bad news is, I am prone to weight gain. The good news is, I never would have had the chance to sample some of the most delectable street foods had it not been for my insatiable hunger.
Cornish pasties, in England
I first tried a Cornish pasty at the West Cornwall Pasty Company in London’s Covent Garden. A traditional pasty – pronounced past-ee, rather than paist-ee – is filled with meat and vegetables, encased in pastry dough. The story goes that Cornish miners helped spread this treat throughout the world. As good street food should, it comes in its own package, helping pedestrians avoid getting their hands dirty.
Churros, in the United States
Churros, sometimes called Spanish doughnuts, are links of pastry dough, piped from a star-shaped syringe, fried, sprinkled with sugar, and sold hot. I bought my first bag of churros in Los Angeles, where my cousins stared at me in disbelief, amazed I hadn’t tried this over-saccharine snack. In Latin countries, these are meant to be eaten for breakfast alongside chocolate.
Gata, in Armenia
Gata is an Armenian sweet bread that I avoided at all costs in Toronto. But when I visited Geghard, an incredible ancient Armenian monastery carved into a mountain, I couldn’t resist stopping at the tables of elderly women selling their freshly baked sweets.
I bought a quarter of one gata, and as I made myself up the winding path to the monastery, breaking off chunks of the sweet bread, I was forever converted.
Unlike the mass-processed gata Armenians buy in the diaspora, this one was so fresh, the core was still warm and syrupy, like custard. Meanwhile the dough was tender and rich, almost like a sweeter and moister brioche.
Palachinki with rose hip jam, in Bulgaria
The Bulgarian palachinki, the Eastern European version answer to the crepe, obviously isn’t a native-born treat. More likely, it has French origins. But Bulgarian street vendors have an edge that, for once, the French don’t.
Bulgarians don’t only offer the usual fare of Nutella and marmalade, you can also ask for a unique filling – rose hip jam – that’s native to this region. Not only is this rust-coloured spread rich in vitamin C – or so I was told growing up – but it’s just tart enough to offset the vanilla undertones of the palachinki.
Satay kroketten, in the Netherlands
Whenever I visit Amsterdam, I mark my day with several stops at Febo, a chain of Dutch walk-up restaurants. Basically, they’re vending machines for fast food. It sounds ridiculous and unhygienic but it can’t get much more efficient. They sell out so fast that Febo staff are constantly refilling the slots with fresh and hot burgers, and kroketten, small fried rolls containing mashed potatoes, minced meat, shellfish or vegetables, often covered in breadcrumbs. They’re pretty much the perfect snack food – fried, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, and instantly available. Be warned: kroketten are to the Dutch what hot dogs are to Canadians – the butt of jokes poking fun at their mysterious ingredients.
Spanakopita, in Greece
Spanakopita is Greek spinach pie. Unlike its Bulgarian counterpart, the Greek version is, from my experience, more salty, likely because of the feta. The one you see in this picture was purchased from a street-side bakery in Hersonissos, Crete. I ate this one, then finished my husband’s too. It was buttery and crispy and sated the appetite I’d worked up after a long, hard day lying in the sun by the pool.
Sujukh, in Armenia
Sweet sujukh is not to be confused with the savory kind of sujukh, spiced Armenian dried sausage. In this case, sweet sujukh consists of walnuts threaded on a string, then dipped in thick grape syrup. The consistency is much like dried fruits or dried apricot paste. It’s sold at markets and even seen at road-side tables alongside soda-bottles filled with homemade wine. This photo was taken at the “pag shuga” in Yerevan, if you look closely you will also see dried pears, apricots, cherries stuffed with nuts.
Waffles, in Belgium
Everyone’s eaten Belgian waffles, but until you eat waffles in Belgium, you don’t know what you’re missing. Maybe it’s that anticipation is everything, because you can smell the waffles before you see them down every main thoroughfare and sometimes down shady alleyways too. Usually served warm, and made fresh, the Belgian waffle is lighter in consistency. I’ve seen recipes for Belgian waffles that suggest adding nutmeg, vanilla or even cinnamon, and that could account for the slight aftertaste that lingers on the tip of my tongue after I have one. Vendors top them with powdered sugar, or sometimes with chocolate spread or whipped cream before serving them, but as a purist, I like to eat them as they are.