I am a big fan of good and delicious food, irrespective of where it is sold. That includes street vendors, and “holes in the wall,” which I have always associated with small nondescript places, with no signs on the venue, no place to sit, and a staff that exudes a slightly higher risk of contracting dysentery, typhoid, or other gastrointestinal diseases. That description might be a bit extreme, but I had some of the best meals in similar places, including the famous Hyderabadi Dum-Biryani in a place not so far from that description.
So where did the phrase a “hole in the wall” come from? On another historical tour of Florence, our tour guide and language enthusiast pointed out some of the palaces where Italian nobility such as the Medici family lived long time ago. Invariably at the entrance there was a slit or a hole in the wall, and the tour guide told us the story that after the nobility hosted lavish dinner parties, instead of throwing the remaining food away, they would give it to the unfortunate lining up in front of the palace through that small hole in the wall of the building. Since the food was delicious, eating at the hole in the wall was sought after during these times, and the tour guide surmised that this is the origin of the phrase. I could not verify that claim, however one site online lists a similar story:
“the hole made in the wall of the debtors' or other prisons, through which the poor prisoners received the money, broken meat, or other donations of the charitably inclined”
Regardless of the origin of the phrase, the story and the imagery were vivid, and they stuck with me.