Monday, May 20, 2024

Harvard Square’s Night Market, which sells “Asian street food,” as seen from the street. (Photo: Night Market via Facebook)

Maybe a moratorium on branding restaurants as “street food”? It was disappointing enough when  Night Market opened in Harvard Square in late 2014 with promises of “Asian street food,” yet turned out to be a sit-down establishment with pretty ordinary hours (5 to 10 p.m. most days, an extra hour on Fridays and Saturdays) and a traditional, restaurant-style approach to ordering and serving food.

Street food is supposed to be sold in the street, prepared fast and eaten immediately, and it’s not cool for restaurants to suggest they’re doing street food when they’re not – locally, they’re just serving street food in a restaurant setting. And that’s just food.

This cruel bait-and-switch is proliferating, too.

Kor Tor Mor (24 College Ave., Davis Square, Somerville) opened Dec. 19 with “Bangkok Street Foods” advertised by its signs and menus – and if there’s anywhere in Somerville that actual street food would be handy, it’s the bro-ey blocks of Davis Square, where Tufts students drift back over the hill from Joshua Tree and Saloon nightly with frat levels of booze sloshing around inside. But 95 percent of Kor Tor Mor’s offerings are indistinguishable from the stuff at 100 percent of the other Thai restaurants in the area. (To appreciate the streetiest food, opt for the Khao Na Kai, which is sausage and sautéed chicken over rice, under a fried egg; Khao Moo Deng, which is sausage, roasted and crispy pork and a boiled egg with barbecue sauce over rice; and the Hoi Tod, pan-fried mussel with tempura powder and egg with sriracha.)

Not so far away, Dakzen (195 Elm St., Davis Square, Somerville) is in a soft opening with what it proclaims to be “Thai street noodles,” and looks delicious – a third of the menu starts with the diner’s choice of six kinds of noodles – but includes as “street food” such things as Pad Thai and Pad See Ew that can be found on literally every Thai restaurant menu in North America. It’s never been “street food” before, but there’s something about this cultural moment that calls for the artificial excitement of identifying what’s essentially a commodity comfort food with an edgy modifier. Yes, it’s exciting to be in the thronged streets of Bangkok or Chengdu; but online gambling isn’t a trip to Las Vegas, either.

Look, guys, there are plenty of hot dog carts out there, but eateries that serve hot dogs don’t identify themselves as serving “street food” – Spike’s Junkyard Dogs didn’t when it was in Davis; Boston’s Saus sells mainly french fries and poutine without ever using the word “street food”;  and there are numerous eateries selling empanadas, all without promoting their wares as “street food.”

If you guys want to brand yourself as street food, get out on the street and sell it. I’ll be there buying it alongside the drunken college students.