Sometimes the best meal a country has to offer isn’t in a Michelin-starred restaurant, but on the streets under a starry sky. Street food is the true fuel of the people, and there’s no better way to learn about a country’s cuisine than to stop by a food stand and bite into a home-style meal.
Despite being prepared in small kitchens, street food may be rather delicious. Experiencing rich flavors in such humble circumstances should be incentive enough to pay a visit to a street food stand or night market. Here are ten cities where the cuisine is taken seriously, as stated by travelers who enjoy experiencing a city through its food.
Bangkok is the mecca of street food. For years, tourists have visited Thai street vendors in search of cheap and delicious food. Street food is a way of life here, especially late at night. Almost every street in the city has something tasty to offer, and you can visit a different street food hub every night of your vacation. From roasted chickens and ducks to papaya salads. Almost any protein you can think of is fried and satayed. The streets are lined with curry buffets. Super-heavy dishes, such as deep-fried hog belly, are offset by lighter fare, such as sour tom yum soup. Then there’s dessert, which has to be one of the best desserts in the world: mango sticky rice.
This city-state has a fantastic food scene. Food stands are called hawker stands and are usually located in hawker centers. Singapore is a cultural melting pot, and the food scene reflects this. The intriguing and delectable blend of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cultures promises a fascinating and tasty blend of simple food with robust and addictive flavors. Singapore is also the location of the world’s first Michelin-starred street food stand. It provides a wide variety of dishes to choose from, including tongue-tingling hokkien mee noodles, steamed pork buns, grilled satay with peanut sauce, steaming laksa soup noodles, and fresh seafood.
Saigon is Vietnam’s street food capital and a serious candidate for the title of world’s greatest street cuisine. Soup shops and sandwich carts line every alleyway, street corner, and market. The food reflects the imprints that numerous nations have made on this land. You’ll notice Chinese influences in their pastries, French influences in their sandwiches, Malaysian influences in their sauces, and Eastern European influences in their beer, for example. The delicious wafts of pho and freshly baked baguettes are irresistible – a superb representation of the city’s East-meets-West cuisine. For those in a rush, Banh Mi sandwiches would be perfect. Layered with things like grilled pork, paté, crispy pork skin, and lots of herbs and pickled vegetables its the perfect on-the-go snack.
The streets of Mexico City overflow with food stands. Be at any hour of the day you can see people huddle around a cart with a flat grill cooking fresh tortillas. Otherwise, look for a sizzling circular pit with meats stewing in preparation for the next order. If meat is not your vibe, you have vegetarian options too. Mexico has some of the most delicious tropical fruits. You will see Fruteros (fruit vendors) and Jugueros (juice vendors) at almost every corner of the street. Begin with the traditional al pastor tacos (pork, occasionally with pineapple), then progress to cow tongue and eyeball. Choose tart pomegranate seed sprinkled with salt and chile, served with a touch of lime for dessert.
If we are talking about night markets, we cannot miss out on Marrakesh. When the sun sets, the Jemaa el-Fna square transforms into a massive outdoor café. The lantern-lit area smells like an open-air spice sauna, with cumin and turmeric filling the air. Mechoui (a lamb dish), tangia (lamb cooked in a clay pot for hours), msemmen (savory or sweet flaky bread), and sfinge (a puffy fried doughnut) are just a few of the most popular street delicacies. You can try the traditional sheep’s head if you’re feeling adventurous. Brochettes of varied fish, tagines, fried aubergine, and couscous meals are suitable for the more conservative palate.
It’s no surprise that Michelin wanted to launch its first-ever street food guide in Hong Kong, where wandering a whole neighborhood and eating street delicacies — or sou gaai (street-sweeping) in the local dialect — is regarded as a favored weekend activity. China’s cuisine is well-known throughout the world, and for good reason! Some of the best meals you’ll ever have can be found in this crowded, crazy metropolis, but those who know the city best know that the best food is always found on the street level, from Causeway Bay to Sham Shui Po, where the curry fishballs, cheong fun, and other delicacies are so notable that they’ve spawned their own culture, sou gaai.
Tokyo, Japan, has the distinction of having the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, therefore the street food scene in the city has a lot to live up to. If there wasn’t a stigma against dining on the go, Tokyo would rank higher, but it doesn’t stop them from having two large outdoor eating options: next-level vending machines and the Tsukiji market. Small shops selling Tamogoyaki, a quintessentially Japanese omelette served on a stick, or market stalls selling Ningo Yaki, tiny little custard or chocolate-filled biscuits can be found far below the neon-lit skyscrapers. Sushi and ramen are always the best here but you cannot miss out on grilled meats and vegetables either.
For many, Cairo may be an unexpected addition to the list, but it is simply one of the world’s most underappreciated gourmet destinations! You’ve probably heard of falafel, kofta, and shawarma, but there are lots of other Egyptian street food specialties that haven’t yet made it to the international cuisine stage. Begin with a fuul fava bean dip breakfast, which goes especially well with falafel. Then try koshary for lunch, which is cooked with pasta, rice, and lentils and topped with a spicy tomato sauce. Hawawshi, a pizza-like dish made with minced beef, onions, and chilies placed between layers of Arabic-style bread, is a good choice for dinner.
To be honest, most of India can lay claim to being a foodie paradise, but the best part about Mumbai’s street food scene is that it draws heavily from each of India’s distinct regions, from the spicy north to the sweeter influences of the south, and has its own twist on the classic dish that makes this backpacker hotspot a street food mecca. There are numerous street food stalls throughout the city, with a focus on vegetarian alternatives and pav meals, which are essentially flatbread served with curry. The primary draws here are bhelpuri (puffed rice and vegetables in a sour tamarind sauce) and vada pav, although meaty biryanis are also a winner.
The Philippines is a serious contender for having the best street food in the world. Filipino street cuisine will always be on the menu of the day on every corner of Manila. The Balut is a favorite of most Filipinos and is arguably the most popular (or Balot, a developing embryo usually of a duck). Another option is Isaw (my personal favorite), which consists of roasted chicken intestines coated in a savory vinegar sauce. Fruits are also included in this street food category, such as the Banana Que, which consists of a banana on a stick cooked with brown sugar. Camote Que is a sweet potato-based version of Banana Que. Binatog, a Filipino dessert prepared from steamed white cork kernels, milk, and shredded coconut, is sure to impress.