Street food is one of my favorite parts of traveling. Most often, it’s where you find locals grabbing meals and socializing.
In the United States, we usually associate a quick meal with fast food chains like McDonald’s or Taco Bell, but in many other countries, fast food (and good food) is found on the streets. Freshly cooked meals made in a stall or on the back of a motorbike on the side of the road are a cultural norm in many parts of the world.
I know the idea of buying food and eating on the side of the road freaks some people out, but the truth is, you can find some of the best food a city has to offer from a humble street stall. Still not convinced? Well, some street food vendors now even have Michelin stars! If that doesn’t convince you, I’m not sure what will…
Despite being made in very minimal kitchens, street food can be quite impressive. To experience complex flavors in such modest surroundings should be reason enough to visit a street food stall or night market.
Depending on the country, there may even be street stalls for alcohol. In Vietnam, for example, locals pull up stools on the side of the road and gather around kegs to sip on cheap and delicious beer – fresh beer, as they call it. In Thailand, you’ll often find bars tucked among many street food vendors so you can wash down your freshly made pad thai with an ice cold Chang or cocktail.
The best street food comes in many forms. It can be as simple as a pancake, or a more intensive dish like roasted duck. Either way, your taste buds will thank you.
Here are 5 of the best countries to visit for street food:
Thailand is the mecca of street food. For one, the food is safe, so tourists have been visiting Thai street stalls for years to get cheap and delicious grub.
You’ll find lots of permanent/semi-permanent stands throughout the country, and also find vendors on motorbikes that drive around.
Night markets are very popular across Thailand, making it super easy to access tons of street food stalls on many nights of the week. With that said, visiting a night market while in Thailand is a must-do, as is eating all the freshly made noodle dishes, soups, curries, and grilled meats the country has to offer.
For dessert, you can’t go wrong with mango sticky rice or banana pancakes. I know it sounds weird, but the cheese and banana pancake topped with condensed milk is heaven!
What to order:
Pad Thai, Pad See Ew, Mu Ping (grilled pork skewer), Som Tam (papaya salad), Boat Noodles, Guay Teow (noodle soup), Banana Pancakes, Mango Sticky Rice
To better understand Hong Kong culture, get familiar with their food. Being a British colony until 1997, the Western influences are apparent, yet the Cantonese roots still dominate.
From very traditional dishes to unusual hybrids, Hong Kong dishes tell stories – and these stories are delicious.
Being a major international port city, cuisine in Hong Kong is suited for all tastes and budgets. Whether you’re keen on street stalls, cafes, or fine dining, the choices are endless in this culinary dreamboat.
Dim sum restaurants may be one of the staples of Hong Kong cuisine, but no trip here is complete without trying some of the street food specialties. You’ll find a variety of both sweet and savory treats, like egg tarts and sui mai, but also those that may only appeal to the more adventurous palette – stinky tofu or fried intestines, for example.
For a unique take on dumplings, head to Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-fried Buns. The dumplings are soft on top but fried on the bottom and are filled with a delicious mix of succulent pork and steamy broth – they even have a black truffle version!
What to order:
Egg Tarts, Sui Mai, Curry Fish Balls, Cheong Fun, Egg Waffles, Pan Fried Buns, Pineapple Bun
Singapore does street food a bit differently than the other countries on this list.
For one, food stands are called hawker stands and they’re typically housed in hawker centers. If you can imagine a mall of small food vendors, that’s pretty much what a hawker center is. And there are a bunch of hawker centers located throughout this food-obsessed city-state. Although many vendors sell the same dish, locals have strong opinions on who does each the best.
Singapore is a melting pot of cultures and the food scene completely embodies that. The unique blend of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cultures promises an interesting and delicious blend of humble food with bold and addictive flavors.
Singapore is also home to the world’s first Michelin rated street food stand.
Be sure to check out Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at the Chinatown Complex Food Centre for Michelin level eats at a super cheap price. Pro tip: They’re famous for the chicken, but get a sampler plate of the meats so you can try them all – the char sui is not to be missed!
What to order:
Soya Sauce Chicken, Braised Duck, Hainanese Chicken Rice, Char Kway Teow, Laksa, Popiah, Kaya Toast
Vietnam’s history can be tasted. The mark that various nations have left on this country become apparent through its food. For example, you’ll experience the Chinese influence in their pastries, French influence in their sandwiches, Malaysian influence in their sauces, and Eastern European influence in their beer.
Different regions of the country have varying taste profiles, so the food you’ll encounter in different cities will vary. The North uses more subtle spices, Central is partial to chilies and spice, and further south they have an affinity for sweetness. The varying flavor preferences are quite apparent in how each region prepares the nationally popular dish, pho.
Despite the variations in palettes, balance is something that is synonymous with Vietnamese food throughout the country. Each region has their own specialty, but fresh ingredients and aromatics are consistently present, making Vietnamese food some of the healthiest street food you can find.
Be sure to try the bun cha in Hanoi, banh mi in Hoi An, and eat pho everywhere!
What to order:
Bánh Mì, Pho, Bánh Xèo, Cha Giò (deep-fried spring rolls), Goi Cuon (fresh summer rolls), Bò Bít Têt (beef steak), Fresh Beer
Mexican flavors are the taste of my childhood, so perhaps I’m biased here… but, I think most people would agree that Mexico totally earns its spot on this list.
Street food is completely a part of Mexican culture. Vendors are everywhere, selling everything from fresh fruit to grilled corn (called elote).
At lunchtime in Mexico City, for example, it’s common to see people dressed in suits standing on the sidewalk scarfing down some freshly made tacos before heading back to their office to finish the day.
Mexican food is some of the most flavorful food around. The flavors are both bold and delicious.
One of the best parts of street food in Mexico is the salsas. I know, it sounds so simple, but each vendor uses a unique combination of ingredients making every salsa special. Adding these concoctions to the already delicious flavor combinations is pretty much perfection.
What to order:
Tacos, Tortas, Tamales, Tostadas, Sopes, Quesadillas, Elote, Chicharrónes, Fruit
Street food is one of the best ways to get to know the cuisine of a country. And it’s one of the most cost-effective ways to eat abroad as well. Bangkok, Hong Kong, Singapore, Hanoi, and Mexico City are my favorite cities for street food.
>> Comment below with your favorite places to eat street food in the world!