Years ago I was fortunate to get to work on a film with actress Zoe Saldana. I was her assistant and would also drive her around to various project-related appointments. We’d crank up some tunes and chat while sitting in the endless L.A. traffic. So one day, we were riding around Hollywood when she spotted a street food vendor… For frame of reference, this was probably somewhere around 2007 or so. Food trucks and street vendors hadn’t really become, I suppose the word would be… “chic” yet.
Growing up in the “City of Angels,” stopping for a bite to eat meant dropping into the regular places we all know… McDonald’s. Fatburger. In-N-Out (oh, how I miss In-N-Out). Not incredibly original, but there’s safety and comfort in that kind of assembly-line meal when you’re in a hurry. Prior to this day with Zoe, the idea of eating food from a street vendor sounded like a good way to get yourself a stomach virus to me.
Zoe was born in New Jersey, but her father was Dominican and she lived in the Dominican Republic for some time as a child. I’ve never been there but I imagine it was quite different to what I was used to, and she told me that when she and her sisters were growing up they would often stop off to grab a bite of delicious food made, on the spot, by a local street vendor.
Despite my reservations, when Zoe saw the street vendor and asked me to pull over, I acquiesced.
We hopped out of my car and I asked her if she was sure about this. As she walked toward the vendor she turned back with a mischievous smile and said, “wait a minute… have you ever had ‘street meat’?” I shook my head, crinkled my nose a bit and curled up the corner of my mouth as if to say, “no, and I don’t intend on indulging with you today…”
But when Zoe Saldana asks you to give something a try you, well… give it a try, Salmonella be damned.
The vendor was a small woman. I recall her telling Zoe (who speaks fluent Spanish) that she was originally from El Salvador. Or maybe it was Guatemala? Anyway, the woman was making soft tacos, Mexican-style rice (which, if you don’t know, is rice cooked in oil, tomato sauce, a touch of chili powder, tomato bouillon, and a bit of minced garlic and clove giving it a nice orange color). She even had a side of warm black beans, freshly made tortilla chips and, once plated, she’d top it off with a bit of cilantro for color. I have to be honest: even as we approached, it smelled delicious.
For your tacos you could choose from beef, chicken, or carnitas. Once cooked, she’d pile them onto your plate with a generous helping of the Mexican rice, a handful of the tortilla chips, and you could choose from a spicy red salsa or a more mild green option (mild for me, thank you very much). We asked for two of each taco and, while the woman cooked our food, Zoe told me a bit more about growing up in the Dominican Republic and how eating “street meat” there was practically a gourmet experience.
The woman handed us our plates, Zoe paid her (and tipped her well) and we climbed back into the car to munch.
Believe it or not, aside from maybe a hot dog vendor with my father as a kid, that truly was my first sampling of “street meat,” and I’m here to tell you that it was absolutely exquisite. Flavorful with just the right amount of kick. I was converted.
Living in Prague, we get a bit spoiled in regard to food festivals. It seems like a new one pops up in a local park every other week. Heck, we even have an Ice Cream Festival… but this month, Prague will welcome one of the better known events.
The Letní Street Food festival will open on Naplavka on August 24th and you won’t want to miss it. There you can sample flavorful foods and “street meat” from all over the world. They’ll have everything from Asian specialties (even fresh fish!), Indian dishes, African cuisine and, if you’re daring, word is they’ll even have some crunchy insects you could try out.
If you’re more interested in traditional Czech food or even a good old fashioned burger, they’ll take good care of you. Later, when you’re done sampling the wide variety of delicious main options, you can have a look around at the pastries and desserts on offer. And, of course, this wouldn’t be a Prague food fest without a generous amount of spirits; Beer, wine, and cider will be plentiful as will those unique Czech Lemonades to help cool you down on a hot day.
If you’re new to the idea of “street meat,” this is a great place to sample a variety of different unique offerings. So, mark your calendars (more info below), and if you’d like to know about other events they’re putting on, check out www.foodevent.cz for more info.
When: 24.8.2019 from 10:00 to 20:00
Where: Smíchovská sluice – Hořejší nábřeží
Cost: 50 CZK, disabled and children under 12 years free