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!
Can’t disagree with any of these but would certainly extend the list with Vietnam, Thailand and Japan and actually Bali, particularly in Ubud.
Thanks for sharing – I haven’t been to Vietnam, Thailand, or Bali but a place many are telling me I need to eat 🙂
And Japan – particularly Tokyo – is one of my favorite places to eat in the world. But found street food wasn’t particularly memorable there – something I’m missing? (And a good excuse to go back soon!)
Awwww, we are crying inside, Anil. 😉 Nice list, all the same.
Istanbul and New Delhi made my draft lists, then off, then on, then off, such a hard decision but Istanbul is one of the best places to eat anywhere 😉
Anil, Love this. Love street food. I agree wholeheartedly by letting your eyes decide where to eat. This goes for sit down restaurants in a strange city as well. We tend to shy away from crowded places, because we’re hungry and don’t want to wait, but the reality is the more crowded a stall or restaurant the better the food, clean and delicious. It’s always worth the wait!
And the waits make the food taste that much better in the end 😉 Or at least that’s what I tell myself to keep patient!
Interesting post, great reading. I’ve never been to any of the locations mentioned unfortunately…but I was somewhat surprised not to the likes of Thailand and Vietnam not mentioned. I’m imagining that the food from the places mentioned must be absolutely faantastic if thes eplaces don’t even make the list?
Thank you Francis. I haven’t been to Thailand or Vietnam either, why their missing from the list. But from what everyone is telling me it’s street food not to be missed.
But the food in all of the places above is fantastic, Kuala Lumpur is like a gigantic restaurants sprawling across the city 🙂
Great list Anil. I haven’t been to most of those places, so now my darned bucket list is even longer…!
I’ve got to be annoying and agree with the other people who commented though: get yourself to Thailand!
haha, somehow I haven’t been yet and for that reason I’m thinking of saving it for later… but not sure that’s possible with all the food I’m hearing about!
Haven’t tried the rest but I can vouch for the food carts in Austin – we enjoyed them so much we couldn’t stop going back for more.
It’s especially hard to resist good food when it’s all over and not more than a few minutes of waiting away.
Nice list, I’d love to try all of them! Street food is our favorite food to try when we are in a unfamiliar place and it always turns out to be good!
I hope you get a chance to eat at all of these places and more, especially if you love street food, you’ll be happy 🙂
dude… Singapore can hardly be considered as having street food compared to all those other countries. Newton food centre you listed is not what we’d consider street food. It’s not food stalls sold on the street. Also, it’s a tourist rip off!
We have food centres here (with no aircon) but with awesome food. Guys, you’ll be better off going to Maxwell food centre!
I disagree, I think Singapore can certainly hold it’s own when it comes to outdoor food. Newton is only one of the places I ate there but appreciate the recommendation for Maxwell, more good food!
KL is my personal favorite as well! But I can’t believe Bangkok did not make it into your list! Must be at least a contender!
Only because I haven’t been there…yet!
I am in Singapore now for the 7th odd time and love it here for the food. In fact when people ask me what there is to do in Singapore I tell them eating a lot! 🙂 Will be in Kuala Lumpur tmrw, love that place as well.
When ask mention what I love about Kuala Lumpur or what to do there, I blurt out… “eat!” Same with Singapore, which is a great appetizer (or main course) after KL.
Street food is the best way to experience local culture! Stone Town on Zanzibar ranks above the rest for us, but also Thailand (Chang Mai & Bangkok) and Kuala Lumpur are alone worth the trip!
I’m now adding Stone Town to my to-travel list!
Portland, Oregon has the best food carts! In fact, there are more than 400 food carts in the city – it’s crazy… and delicious. Not bad for such a relatively small population.
I have never been and to be honest, had not thought or heard about it being a great place to eat. Now though, I know better, thanks 🙂
I’ll second this comment for Portland. It’s obviously more expensive than the other cities, but probably the best city I’ve been to for street food. It’s not quite in the same spirit (usually cooked in a small camper, rather than a stove you can just wheel around), but it’s probably logistically as close as you can get in a developed country.
um, I have tried most of the cities you have mentioned. They are all great, but have you tried Taiwan’s street food…YUM
Right now these come to my mind: Barcelona, Rome, Istanbul, Budapest, Athens…
Great and plentiful food and drinks in Barcelona and Istanbul. Great for eating around.
I agree with Kualar Lumpur, though ALL of Malaysia has great street food (dare I mentioning PENANG)….
I am such a fan of food that each time I see street food places whenever I am traveling it is really hard for me to resist. I have actually spent one year in Asia and I would definitely add Vietnam to this list. I am currently working for an events company in London that lists many food/ cooking related events and I love going to such events!
I hear that a lot about Vietnam but I haven’t been… yet! Thanks for the suggestion 🙂
Great Post and Nice list of street foods, I’d love to try all of them one day! Most people love Street food when they are in an unfamiliar place.