In many ways, a culture is defined by the food it serves on its streets. Witness Singapore's steaming hawker centers filled with fiery chili crab and decadent laksa; the vendors in Bangkok peddling crispy crickets and fried tarantulas; spicy tripe sandwiches sold in Florence, Italy; currywurst sausages devoured by hungry Germans in Berlin; and the chaat (snacks) served at carts across India that are as varied as the country itself.
The United States has its own street food, too. For decades, Americans have walked up to a New York pushcart for a hot dog smothered in sauerkraut or ordered a Philadelphia soft pretzel topped with piquant yellow mustard.
But street food in this country has evolved. Today, it's about more than just dogs and dough (although there are still plenty of those). It's currently undergoing a renaissance that often borrows heavily from its global counterparts. Vendor carts across the country are filling the air with exotic scents and filling patrons' stomachs with creative, gourmet treats at sometimes shockingly affordable prices. After all, with no rent to pay, no waiters to hire and no fancy white tablecloths to launder, street vendors can focus all their attention on what really matters -- good, fast, affordable food.
So grab your napkin and sense of adventure. We're off to snack, sip and savor some of the best street food across America.