Many people love nothing more than enjoying the local cuisine when travelling, particularly in exotic places, and the general advice is to head straight for the street food vendors. Indeed, in many parts of the world some street vendors are almost as famous as the Michelin rated chefs of the West. The reason for this is that they tend to focus on one particular dish and hone their craft over many years and generations – resulting in a perfectly cooked regional and unique dish. In Thailand, for instance, you will find many street vendors dishing up the tourist favourite Pad Thai on old plates of all colours, in the middle of a bustling market, and they will do it better than the five star restaurants in most cases.
Pad Thai at a street vendor in most parts of Thailand costs less than a pound, but is filling and tasty, combining flat noodles with a delicate sweet, sour and salty sauce along with egg, small pieces of tofu, bean sprouts and your choice of chicken or prawns. The incredibly thing about eating this way, is that the prawns are likely to be larger than those available in most supermarkets, freshly caught from the sea, as cheap as chips as we say, but delicious! That’s the beauty of street food. It’s cheap, tasty and fresh.
There tend to be two types of travellers who approach street food in entirely different ways. There’s the package holiday makers that tend to hunt out the best cruise holiday deals and spend just a few hours in each port, who are intrigued by street food, and are keen to leave the ship to sample it – then there’s the more rough and ready backpackers who practically live off street food, based on the cost and it being freely available day and night.
No matter what your travel style, here are some of the best places in the world to eat street food:
1. Bangkok, Thailand
As mentioned, in Bangkok it’s almost impossible to avoid street food as it’s practically on every corner of every street; from fresh young coconuts to mango sticky rice to the more complex and multi-layered Thai curries. The street food in Chinatown, locally known as Yarowat is a good place to head toward for something like Hoy Tod Nai Mong which is crisp fried mussel pancake, cooked over a charcoal stove. Though, to be honest, look practically anywhere within Bangkok and you will find ramshackle street vendors in place to fill up locals and tourists alike.
2. Tokyo, Japan
Tokyo is perhaps one of the most expensive places to eat on the planet, and with such some very unusual cuisine for many, so most will stick with sushi, ramen and noodles – yet there’s much more to Japanese cuisine than this. Whilst you won’t find all that many street food vendors in Tokyo, a city famed for having more Michelin starred restaurants than anywhere else in the world, you could head to Teppen: Nakameguro, where they will cook up food in front of your eyes at very high temperatures over a special type of charcoal to trap all the taste and nutritional value inside.
3. Marrakesh, Morocco
Morocco is famed for its tasty tagines, and in Morocco, as the sunsets you will find the whole of the main square filled with food vendors – most of whom sell exactly the same cuisine at incredibly cheap prices; you’ll find chicken, lamb and beef tagine or brochette (think shish kebab) along with more traditional fare such as pigeon pastilla, escargot and tripe soup. Just be sure to avoid the people in costume offering mint tea, as they will attempt to charge a fortune for their service (particularly if you take a photograph).
4. New Orleans, Louisiana
In Louisiana there’s a joke that gas stations tend to serve better food than some of the finest restaurants, due to the street food style setup known as a “plate lunch” offered by many gas stations and tiny outlets such as convenience stores. Traditionally, a plate lunch is comfort food in the vein of red beans rice served with andouille sausage, whereas today, the locals are heading more toward taqueria trucks and pho noodle outlets.
5. Istanbul, Turkey
Istanbul is a great city to explore, and when it comes to food, Turkey has a rich heritage of different tasty treats, from the traditional pizza (known locally as pide, which is very different in taste to most pizzas) to wonderful kebabs and, of course, Turkish delight; also, be sure to checkout the Turkish ice cream that is on offer on almost all main streets.
6. Hong Kong
In Hong Kong there’s a local saying (sou gaai) to describe the art of street-sweeping in the context of perusing around street food vendors to hunt out the best tasty snacks on offer. Hop Yik Tai serves some of the most incredible cheong fun (these are steamed rice rolls that are dipped in soy, sesame and hoisin sauce). Then, there’s Fei Jie, for the more adventurous, that serves a speciality of braised turkey kidneys and pig intestines… it sounds awful, but there’s always a huge line of people waiting to be served. If you’re looking for an eclectic mix of street food vendors head to the corridors beneath the Tai On building, as this turns into a vibrant late night food market, most nights of the week.
Paris is not particularly well known for street food in the same way that places in Asia or Sri Lanka are, yet it’s a definite foodie destination, with so many luxurious patisseries and charcutiers in town – all of which can offer top quality snacks perfect for a picnic in one of Paris’ many parks. In terms of street food, on a cold day, there’s nothing better than bumping into a roast chestnut vendor, or a crepe stand, serving up both savoury and sweet crepes as an affordable snack.
Bali is an incredibly interesting place to head to, particularly if you like street food, as it serves up such a range of different cuisine – from the health conscious vegan outlets to the more traditional suckling pig roast shacks. This ceremonial dish, known as babi guling, features a suckling pig served up in a variety of dishes that ensures nothing goes to waste. Of course, there’s the typical rice and noodle dishes along copious amounts of tropical fruit. One thing’s for sure when you visit Bali, if you scratch beneath the surface you will open a Pandora’s box of enticing experiential treats.
India has to be one of the capitals of street food, and Mumbai is a great place to delve into the street food scene. Of course, as with all eating in India, you have to be particularly cautious and check that the standards of hygiene are suitable before frequenting a particular eatery, though many travellers swear by street food as being the safest option. Here, you’ll find hearty biryanis, sweet mango lassis and malpua pancakes in addition to the much adored vada pac which are balls of mashed potato with garlic, chilli and copious herbs.
10. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Vietnam offers some of the best street food in the world. You might be sat on the side of a busy road, perched on an old plastic chair, with a steaming bowl of pho in front of you, but it will be one of the most incredibly delicate and complex meals you will ever experience. The great thing about Vietnamese food is that it tastes exceptionally fresh and fragrant, rather than being sticky, salty and sweet like some other Asian food, Vietnamese street food offers a much healthier approach.
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