For some reason, food always tastes better on the road. There's something alluring about mini, mobile food establishments. Whether they are rugged, homey stands along the country highway, or the fast, efficient and ultra-compact food vendors scattered about city street corners, they can be irresistible.
Although street vendors thrive around the world, especially urban areas in Asia and the Middle East, the vendors in the United States reflect the quintessential American melting pot. Throughout the immigration waves of the late 19th and 20th centuries, immigrants without strong English skills or much education increasingly found success as street vendors. As a result, Americans have been exposed to ethnic food on the street.
New York is perhaps the city most known for its street vendor food. And even there, the city has not always embraced the practice. Because they crowded the streets, the city started enacting laws restricting food vendors as far back as the 17th century [source: Simopoulos]. And today, a fair amount of politics surround street vendors -- partly due to the bureaucratic complexities of getting a proper permit. In exploring them for her New York Times article, the writer Julia Moskin found that many street vendors would not seek legal redress in battles against other vendors (and would not even talk to her on the record) lest authorities inspect them [source: Moskin].
And with the modern concerns about food safety and health, vendors are facing as much criticism as ever. But despite the adversity, street food remains enduringly popular.