(This piece was originally published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)
In his book “Street Food,” author Tom Kime wrote to “get a feel for the beating heart of any community, and to begin to understand a culture different from your own, you need to understand the food.” He’s right.
For the last 18 years, I’ve understood Fairbanks mostly in terms of the weather, but writing about our local food scene is teaching me how to understand and love this place in a new way.
Fairbanks has its own emerging hybrid culture — one rooted in subsistence living, energized by the freedom to “come as you are,” and adorned with the art, music and cuisines of the many cultures that exist here. Look at the College Road and University Avenue intersection — a place where Thai, American, Cuban and semi-Italian cuisines peacefully coexist.
Once summer rolls around, the open-air vendors set up shop and Middle-Eastern, Southern American, Mexican and Philippino cuisines are added to the mix. One could easily spend a Friday afternoon on a tasting tour around the world in the space of a city block.
Street food is in a class by itself. It’s a more intimate exchange than what happens in a restaurant, where the wait staff and dining room are middlemen between you and the person who cooks your food. On the street, it’s just you and the cook in what you both hope will be a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Street food also is good for the larger community: it encourages socializing, outdoor activity, thrifty entertainment and entrepreneurial opportunities.
Edward L. Glaeser, a professor of economics said cities can “work economic magic and entertain their citizens by connecting smart people, helping them to learn from one another and to innovate. … Food trucks are a natural part of the innovative culinary process.”
Fairbanks should not only make it easy for these vendors to continue to exist, but encourage more vendors on more corners of more streets.
My favorite kind of street food is skewered meat: Greek souvlaki, Japanese yakitori, Southeast Asian satay, Turkish kebabs or French brochettes. Skewer the meat, season it, grill it and I’m there.
The following recipe is for an Asian-style skewers. The ingredients can be found here in Fairbanks, although you may have to ask where a few of them are located.
3-4 pork chops, cut into thin slices (other meats are fine too)
10-12 skewers (wooden should be soaked for 30 minutes)
1/2 cup Jufran banana sauce (similar to ketchup)
1 tablespoon of:
garlic chili paste
2 tablespoons of:
ground coriander seed
hot pepper jelly (I used Stonewall Kitchens, there are others)
dark soy sauce
fish sauce (any will do)
fresh chopped cilantro leaves (stems removed)
coconut oil, coconut cream or coconut milk (I used oil)
Heat the grill to medium. Thread pork slices onto skewers. Coat the meat with a thin layer of coconut oil. Mix all of the other ingredients in a bowl. Lightly grill both sides of the skewers, then begin basting the meat with the sauce. Rotate the skewers until the pork is thoroughly cooked.