Gourmet this. A la carte that. It’s all well and good, but gastro heaven doesn’t have to mean a galaxy of Michelin stars. Sometimes the best bites can be snapped up when you’re on the hoof, as these 5 light bites from around the world prove…
1. Sicilian snacks to go – arancini
Deep fried. Two little words that strike fear into the hearts of the health conscious. But you’d better get used to it if you’re travelling to Sicily. The takeaway of choice here is arancini, and to give you an idea of its nutritional value, the Sicilians’ other name for their cult dish is bombetti – fat bomb. It’s a ball of rice stuffed with meaty, tomato ragout, which is rolled in breadcrumbs and dropped in the fryer. Ironically, its name means ‘oranges’ because it looks like one when it reappears a few minutes later – but that’s where the similarities end as you’ll struggle to find any vitamin C here.
Arancini have been keeping Sicilians satisfied since the 10th century, although all sorts of variations have been dreamed up over the generations. Some of these would no doubt have nonna spinning in her grave, like the chocolate version. And you won’t have to wander far to find one – where there’s a corner, there’s usually a snack stall selling them.
2. Spanish speedy eats – churros
For this one, just let your nose lead you. The smell of fresh churros is unmistakable, and impossible to resist. Essentially, they’re like doughnuts. Strips of piped dough are fried until crunchy before being showered in sugar. Interestingly, it’s their shape that actually landed them their name – they resemble the horns of the Churro breed of sheep reared in Spain.
While tourists snack on them round the clock, locals tend to eat them only in the morning – you’ll see sharp-suited locals striding to work licking the sugar off their lips. The huge volume of stalls known as churrerias means a delicious, churros-infused aroma hangs over most towns and cities. They’re a bit of a festival staple, too. They’re super-sweet in their own right, and even more so when dipped in the locals’ drink of choice – gloopy hot chocolate.
3. Quick Belgian bites – moules-frites
One of the great things about street food? It’s cheap as chips. And that’s particularly apt for Belgium’s best-loved takeaway snack. A euro buys you a cone of hot, crispy frites that’ll transform the way you view the humble potato. They’re fantastic. There are plenty of accompaniments, but ketchup isn’t one of them. Favourites include a hearty dollop of mayo or a side-order of succulent moules.
Carts – or friteries to give them their proper name – crop up in squares everywhere, although they often have to battle the aroma of fresh waffles coming from competing street kitchens. A favourite afternoon treat, Belgian waffles are often lighter, thicker and crispier than their American counterparts. Eat them with a light dusting of sugar or go the whole hog and ask for one smothered in cream or a thick layer of chocolate spread.
4. Fast French fillers – crêpes
Invented in the Brittany region of France, crêpes are wafer-thin pancakes made from wheat flour. This popular cart cuisine has become as much of a national emblem as the Eiffel Tower, and makeshift crêperies are everywhere. In Paris, for instance, you can wander down a single boulevard and clock up double figures easily. You’ll see locals and tourists watching transfixed as a bland-looking puddle of batter is raked, flipped and folded into a golden triangle of gorgeousness. Et voilà – a cheap and hearty snack to go.
The ultimate crêpe is hotly debated in France – some insist it’s all about savoury, with ham, eggs and cheese making the shortlist. Others argue that sweet makes for the biggest treat, with sugar, banana and chocolate spread among the favourites.
5. Top Thai takeaway – pad Thai
Nowhere does fast food better than Thailand. The country’s pavements are like one gigantic kitchen. Everywhere you go – whether it’s the capital, Bangkok, or some back-and-beyond village – you’ll see someone crouched over a hot plate, whipping up a culinary storm that’ll set its recipient back a few coins. You can tell which carts do the best food by the number of people scattered round them.
One of the most popular meals on wheels is pad Thai – a delicious concoction of fried noodles, egg, beansprouts, dried shrimp, garlic and peanuts. It takes about 3 minutes to cook from scratch, often by an old pro who’s been churning out the dish for decades. And, quite apart from the fact it makes for a fantastic meal, it’s a steal, too – a carton of the stuff costs about 50p.
Talking of takeaways, First Choice is sponsoring Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway Tour Live this summer. We’ll be giving away loads of free holidays as part of the ‘Win the Adverts’ game. The first show kicks off in Cardiff at the Motorpoint Arena on Wednesday 6th August with other dates running through until mid-September.