There is something about food being prepared without walls, under a sorry excuse for a roof barely out of traffic’s way, that’s perversely enticing. Plumes of smoke accompanied by sounds of crackling grease and popping animal bits call for you to enjoy one of the simplest forms of cuisine where chef, ingredient, kitchen, and customer are all within arm-length.
At its worst street food is a low budget equivalent of a colonic – at its best the most memorable of calories we can consume on our travels. I obviously haven’t been to every city or country (although I’m working on that) but to answer a question I get often, these are the places where I’ve had the best street food.
5. Manila, Philippines
The Philippines introduced me to a number of new tastes and although it’s probably most famous for its unfertilized duck fetus balut, I would recommend starting out slower with kwek kwek. A version of tokneneng (fried hard boiled eggs), kwek kwek is a quail egg fried in orange batter, often served with a side of vinegar sauce for dipping. Follow that up with a sweet like banana cue – deep fried banana coated with brown sugar served on a stick – and then continue eating with these 12 must-try street foods in Manila.
4. Oaxaca, Mexico
The foods of southern Mexico are colorful and much like Manila, Oaxaca’s standout street fare is chapulines, simply because many visitors aren’t used to eating cooked grasshopper. Although chapulines shouldn’t be avoided (especially if you’re on a low carb diet) you can indulge your protein needs with other meats on top of a tlayuda. (Vegetarians can substitute eggs or squash.) Similarly stuffed with various ingredients its dough can barely handle are Oaxacan empanadas; a thin slice of Oaxaca’s cuisine.
3. Austin, Texas
Although almost all of the outdoor food here is sold from a cart, the uniformity stops there. The city’s motto, “keep Austin weird” really means keep it unique; which is why you don’t find chains of carts selling the same foods. It is hard to roundup the street eats in Texas’ state capitol where there’s a food cart or trailer on every corner you’re likely to be on. Many tourists end up on South Congress Avenue where Serious Eats recommends these 6 trucks and for everywhere else, consult Austin Food Carts for lunch, lunch, snack, and dinner.
In a country whose workers put in more hours than most other nations and enacts a strict legal system, Singaporeans rebel among foods served by enthusiastic stall vendors. Open-air food markets like Newton Circus Food Centre are surprisingly chaotic as touts from over 50 stalls rush to offer you cuisine from all over Southeast Asia. It’s best to do a quick walk-through first so you don’t make any snap decisions; generally the center of the markets are calmest. (But hardly calm.) But if you do end up making a quick decision for the most part, it’s hard to go wrong.
1. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
People ask me all the time where the best street food is, the answer is this city my friends http://t.co/wW9O11jCG5
— Anil (@foxnomad) October 3, 2013
Rove around Kuala Lumpur’s shopping district Bukit Bitang, wandering right behind the expensive malls to find SB Corner, an inexpensive but impressive Malay buffet. There you’ll find Indian and Chinese reminiscent foods with Arab and Thai influences whose combination are really the essence of Malaysian cuisine. Mixing cultures is something that defines this religiously tolerant nation – as is food on a stick – like at my favorite nameless stall on Petaling Street.
Find The Best Street Food With Your Eyes
Stalls, especially those with less-than-hygienic appearances can be intimidating when you first arrive in a new city. To avoid illness the simplest advice I can give is to eat where you see a long line of locals. (Long line of tourists – do the opposite.)
- Street Food Expert’s Tips – Jodi Ettenberg answered everything you want to know about street food in my live chat series.
Sub-par vendors can get away with giving temporary visitors diarrhea but wouldn’t last long by sickening their regulars. Order what everyone else is eating while keeping in mind to save a little space for the next appetizing dish that might be along your path.
Where’s the best street food you’ve ever had? Don’t forget to post links to any specific places we should eat at (if you’ve got them) in the comments below!