Feniger's latest cookbook was inspired by travels in India, Mexico and beyond.
Feniger on food trucks, future plans
What’s the best thing you ever ate on the street?
There are so many. The first time I was in Mumbai, trying panipuri or bhelpuri. All over the streets people are doing chaat—snacks with puffed rice, potatoes, tamarind chutney, like a fried tortilla gets tossed together at last minute with cilantro. You eat it out of a paper cone and it’s so incredibly flavorful.
In Singapore, I had Kaya toast, a hangover cure that’s made with coconut curd, eggs and pandan leaves.
And I ate probably one of the best cubano sandwiches ever outside of Guadalajara at 11 at night. A woman there made cubanos with pork, carnitas, hot dogs, you name it. They are fabulous.
You’re in L.A., where sourcing some of these esoteric ingredients isn’t a challenge. What about the rest of us?
Street Food includes recipes that allow the user to produce these very interesting dishes without being forced to find exotic ingredients. And there are suggestions for substitutes. Also, instead of a glossary, we provided little pictures of all these ingredients, so if you walk into a market and no one speaks English, someone can help you.
Food trucks aside, do you ever see street food gaining ground in the U.S.?
I think people come up with creative ways to get out there. A truck is less expensive than a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and a food stand is even less expensive. But local health departments make it challenging to have those around. I think there are great things that can happen without needing a truck. We’re challenged in L.A. because everyone drives. But in places like New York City, we are starting to see a lot more ethnic foods pop up, things like dosas and papusas. I think more and more we’ve embraced global cuisine—way more so than 20 years ago. And maybe all the excitement about the trucks is changing opinions. We’ve had food trucks around a long time—they used to be called roach coaches. Now in L.A. alone there are 100-plus gourmet food trucks, and the health department is on top of them.
What’s next on your to-do list?
The cookbook just came out, so I’ve got a heavy-duty media schedule now. And there are a bunch of food festivals still going on here. We’re looking at what the next book might be; it will probably also be street-oriented. We are looking for another Border Grill location in Southern California. And I’d like to expand Street as well.