Street food is an unavoidable part of the southeast Asian experience. Even if you don't put it in your mouth you can't help but come into contact with what's cooked and served on the street - you see it, you smell it, and, yes, sometimes you have to maneuver to get around it.
We wouldn't have it any other way. In Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, Lao, Cambodia, and now, Manila, we've been tempted by the offerings of street food vendors. We've stopped to look, to ask questions, and to taste. We've tasted when we're in the market for a meal and - quite often - when we're not at all hungry. We can't imagine how many SE Asian treats, how many versions of those treats, and how many memorable personal encounters we would have missed had it not been for the fact that we're open to food that is served on the street in this part of the world.
We're not saying that street food is always better. It isn't (neither is restaurant food). But sometimes, it is - because it's produced by a vendor who's been specializing in one dish or a few, day after day, year after year. (Besides, there are some dishes that just aren't made off the street.) And we're not saying that if you haven't experienced SE Asian street food you haven't 'done' SE Asia - but we are saying you've missed out on an important part of the region's culinary culture.
Why the street food soliloquy? Because it seems that India's gearing up to crack down on street food in the name of hygiene. What a depressing thought. We haven't been to India yet but we're dying to go. And when we do, we want to sample chickpea fritters right out of the oil, tosai griddled before our eyes at a street stall, a poori (puffed rice) 'salad' tossed together to order. It's a big country and it's unlikely that the authorities will be able to rein in all the street vendors before we get there. But the fact that it's even being contemplated makes us roll our eyes in disgust.
Long live SE Asian street food! The day the region follows Singapore's lead (we know there's good food in Singapore - we just don't think the hawker food's the best in the region) and becomes food court-erized is the day we pack up and leave.
Happily, we think that day's a long way off.