Reviewed by food writer Lari Robling
If New York is the city that never sleeps; Philadelphia is the city that always eats. On most street corners you will find a stainless steel truck offering everything from fruit salad to falafel, Jamaican jerk to cheesesteak, and the best breakfast sandwiches a weary worker could desire. So it's no wonder this Phildadelphian finds Anissa Helou's book, Mediterranean Street Food, a treasure trove of new recipes to try.
Helou's book lets you wander this diverse region and pick up plenty of interesting eats and stories along the way. After all, traveling the Mediterranean can take you anywhere from Spain to Syria, Egypt, and Morocco.
Food sold on the street is a traveler's map to the people and places of a city. Helou describes a veiled Berber woman in Morocco eating gracefully without revealing her face. In Tripoli, a simple sandwich of French fries, garlic sauce and pita bread sounds even more delicious when it is one of the first foods to appear in the evening after the daylong fasting of Ramadan. I'm tempted to describe some foods as exotic but as street food watermelon pudding or snail soup is just everyday fare.
The recipes, however, can be a little hard to follow. The author, who lives in London, uses British lingo. This caused some confusion when I asked my butcher for lamb rump instead of our term, lamb shoulder. In several recipes she calls for the use of a large flameproof casserole on the stovetop, an item which we would call a skillet or Dutch oven in this country.
And there are some recipes only for the adventurous eaters among us. A sandwich that includes chicken hearts, livers, kidneys and the very private parts of a male lamb would surely dissuade all others. Personally, I loved the unusual flavors of the cinnamon-spiced octopus, and thought the lamb stew with nutmeg and preserved lemon was exquisite.
Whether you're up for all the culinary adventures or not - Mediterranean Street Food offers home cooks the opportunity to walk the streets of distant lands without leaving the kitchen.