Street food is celebrated all over the world as being one of the best foodie experiences you can have and is often one of the best ways to get to know a destination, but where in the world has the best street food? Where should you head to on your round the world travels if you truly want a gastronomical adventure? Here are the 20 best cities in the world for discovering street food!
Street food has always been popular among travellers for a reason, it is convenient, fresh and often dirt cheap, which for travellers on a budget is absolutely essential! But more than that it is some of the best food you will ever taste! You don’t need to find a fancy, expensive restaurant to sit in or stick to the branded fast food chains, street food is where every traveller goes when they are hungry!
Street food used to be a simple snack, served by the side of the road, on a stall or even in a food court to hungry travellers or locals going about their daily business, but in recent years it has become far more than that. Increasingly street food has been lauded as a quintessential travel experience, a fundamental part of the heart and soul of a culture alongside history, language and the arts, and that is exactly what it is! What would a backpackers first experience of Khao San Road be without a cheap bowl of Pad Thai from a vendor or the smell of spiced meats and vegetables filling the air as you wander through a Morroccan souk?
Every traveller knows just how awesome street food is, the big question is where should you go if you want to experience the worlds best street food? Well to tantalise your tastebuds as much as your wanderlust, in no particular order the answer is right here in this list of the top 20 street food cities in the world!
Tokyo in Japan has held the coveted accolade as the city with the most Michelin starred restaurants in the world, so the street food scene has a lot to live up to. And it does, in spades! Far below the neon filled skyscrapers are 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 in the shape of little lanterns or Hello Kitty faces, and if you find yourself in Harajuku you have to try the eponymous Harajuku crepes! These little treats are only found here and are handheld treats topped with anything from ice cream, fruit or even slices of cake! Just make sure to have some vegetables for your next meal to balance it out! Tokyo is far more than just sushi or sashimi, and exploring the city through its street food vendors gives you a whole new perspective on Japanese culture!
If there is any city in the world that is famous for its street food, it is Singapore! This famously foodie city is filled with street stalls and food courts selling some of the tastiest traditional and fusion food in the world, an accolade helped by the fact that Singapore itself is a fusion city, a melting pot of local, Malay, South Asian, East Asian and Eurasian influences that all bring very distinctive culinary tastes to the mix and creates some unique dishes!
Hawker stalls and food courts can be found all over the city and are easy to get to thanks to the cities impeccable public transport system. You really don’t have to walk far to find somewhere amazing to eat! Start the day alongside Singaporean workers with some Kaya toast, slices of toasted bread with butter and kaya, a coconut jam, with some strong coffee and a soft-boiled egg, and then round off the day with some Hainanese Chicken Rice or Char Kuay Teow from the famous Maxwell Road Food Court.
Taipei in Taiwan is a highly underrated backpacker destination with a vastly underappreciated street food scene. The Shilin and Tonghua night markets are filled to the brim with brightly coloured stalls selling freshly cooked snacks and the Taipei staple, stinky tofu! Obviously most of the food has a distinctly Chinese influence, but increasingly Taiwan is inventing new and exciting dishes that allow them to put their own identity on their cuisine as they continue to seperate themselves from their mainland identity. It is easy to head to one of the night markets, many of which have hundreds of street food stalls, and spend all night there stuffing your face!
You can’t talk about worldwide street food without mentioning the souks and streets of Marrakech! Now Morrocan cuisine often gets talked down a lot because the package tourists who stick to the resorts and large restaurants don’t venture outside of that, but that isn’t the places where locals choose to eat. They eat at home or head out in the evening to savour the vast array of small bites and snacks on the streets and the souks. There are certain places in Marrakech such as Jemma el fna that are specifically known for their food stalls, and this is where anyone who wants to get a taste of genuine Morrocan food will go! It is packed, crowded and often intimidating for first timers, but once you walk through the smoke of freshly cooking meats, smell the spices of the slow cookunf tangia being cooked in clay pots and mop up a small plate of mechoui with some msemmen, a type of flaky bread, your taste buds will thank you forever! The trick is to look through the dense crowds and follow the long lines of locals who will always know where the best food stalls are, and don’t be afraid to delve down a few side streets too! You’ll find some of the best food down those side streets!
China’s cuisine is famous the world over, and for good reason! Some of the best meals you will ever eat can be found in this heaving, crazy metropolis, but those who know the city best know that the best food is always found at street level, from Causeway Bay to Sham Shui Po, the curry fishballs, cheong fun and other delicacies are so noteworthy they have spawned their own culture, sou gaai. Sou gaai literally means sweeping the streets for food, and describes the act of going from stall to stall, kitchen to kitchen and sampling a little bit of the food at each one!
Street food is synonymous with Bangkok, my own very first memory of the city on my very first gap year over 20 years ago is of sitting on the sidewalk on Khao San Road and stuffing my face with endless, cheap plates of Pad Thai after a long, tiring flight! Street food vendors are found all over the city and work on a constant rolling rotation with some vendors working the morning breakfast crowd, others opening up just for the workers lunch breaks and evening meals and then of course there are those who open when the sun sets and are open most of the night. No matter where you go in Bangkok or what time of day or night it is you can always get some amazing food! And I do mean amazing! The ubiquitous Pad Thai and grilled satay chicken are absolute Bangkok classic dishes and no one can resist the smell of pork or prawn noodles fried in an open wok over a fire! These dishes and are so good there are a cluster of vendors who have even earned the venerated Michelin stars! Make no mistake though these are not posh restaurants, these are simple kitchens or stalls open to the street with a few small plastic chairs and tables around them. A classic Bangkok backpacker experience with unbelievable world class food!
Ho Chi Minh City.
Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam is the go to street food capital in a country know for its delicious, cheap street food! Cooking at eating is a national pastime here and the world famous favourites of spring rolls, banh mi and pho are to be found everywhere, but if you know where to look you can get some truly unique and delicious dishes and eat like a king without ever spending more than a few pounds or stepping foot in a fancy restaurant!
Cho Ben Thanh is a local market filled to the brim with local vendors, all selling the classic banh mi and spring rolls with chilli sauce, but many selling more traditionally local dishes too like Com Tam, or broken rice. Com Tam is basically a way of using up all the ‘broken’ (or not quite perfect) rice pieces from the milling process so that nothing goes to waste, great if you want to help the envioronment, even better if you want to fill your stomach up with something cheap and delicious and couple it with some shredded pork! Seafood is also popular here (so popular they actually have a street named seafood street, Vinh Khanh), where you can walk around and savour the sights and smells of countless outdoor grills, all serving up fresh fish and crab dishes!
Food may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Jerusalem, especially given the sheer wealth of culturally and historically important sites to see in the city, but its underground street food scene is exploding under everyones radar, and is becoming a reason to visit the city in and of itself! If you like a more traditionally cultural offering Mahane Yahuda market is the lifeblood of Jerusalem during the day, selling everything from spices and fresh fruit to everyday groceries and bread, and is a great place to pick up a quick falafel or shawarma, and especially one of the little pastries known as bourekas!I got totally obsessed with these little snacks a few years ago and the best way I can describe them is kind of like a little samosa, filled with cheese, spinach and potatoes. But what makes this market even more interesting is that once night falls the whole place turns into a hipster bar and foodie heaven and is a great place to relax with friends, eat some good food and have a few locally brewed craft beers. If you want something a little fancier and modern, Jerusalem has you covered too. The First Station is a refurbished train station – hence the name – that has become a focus of entertainment and culture in the city. It mostly has larger local restaurants but there are a lot of smaller local cafes and eateries too that make it a foodie heaven and is the perfect place to laze the day away exploring the city’s cultural delights. If you are in Jerusalem for any length of time you have to come here at least once, even if it just to have one meal.
Instanbul is a true hidden mecca for street food, and the best way to eat in between exploring the landmarks and historical sites is genuinely to avoid the big restaurants full of tourists and stick to the smaller eateries, street stalls and markets away from the touristy areas like Sultanahmet. Wherever you see major tourists spots just walk an extra few minutes to walk down a few side streets or to specific neighbourhoods like Istiklal street in Beyoglu or Sirkeci which is near Sultanahmet, and you will get a whole different experience. The street food in Istanbul is an exemplary showcase of traditional Turkish cuisine and can be eaten very cheaply and very quickly on the go. Try the Balik Ekmek, a grilled fish bun, or Gozleme, which is kind of like a doughball pastry filled with spinich and feta, and wash it down with a small cup of powerful Turkish coffee or sweet tea!
Cairo might be a surprise addition on the list for many, but it is quite simply one of the single most underrated foodie spots on the planet! Despite the fact that traditional Egyptian foods such as Shawarma and Kofta are well known in the west, Egypt is not very well known as a foodie destination, which is perhaps why when you discover just how good the street food scene in this amazing city really is it blows your mind! The problem with Cairo is two fold, first is that very few tourists explore beyond the tourist traps, and second is that those tourist traps are filled with international fast food brands, and yes, there really is a Pizza Hut and a KFC facing the Sphinx, so the local food tends to get ignored a lot. For those who spend more time in the city and follow the crowds of locals away from the international brands, Cairo’s street food is amazing. Koshari dishes with rice, lentils and chickpeas and a tomato sauce, Egyptian street meat that puts every kebab shop back at home to shame, and my absolute favourite and daily go to snack, hawawshi, a pita bread stuffed with meat, onions and spices.
Alexandria is another surprise addition to this list, mostly because relatively few travellers visit the city at the best of times, but like Cairo, it offers up some amazing street food that is as distinct from Cairo’s fare as Alexandria itself is from the rest of Egypt, with a far more Mediterranean influence and a lot more sea food! The street food scene is about far more than the amazing food though, it is an experience in and of itself too! Alexandria is an ancient city built up around the corniche facing the Mediterranean sea. Every night at sunset the locals gather on the walled cornich to mingle, enjoy the sunset, have a picnic on the rocks and enjoy the numerous vendors who set up their stalls at night. Alexandria still sells the traditional Egyptian street food you’ll find in Cairo, but has its own unique twist on many classics like sujuk and makanek, and of course the famously fresh seafood! And you have to stop for at least a couple of the roasted nut stands along your walk!
Flanked on both sides by the culinary giants of Thailand and Singapore, Malaysia is often overlooked as a foodie destination, but I promise you the street food scene in Kuala Lumpur is like nowhere else and will absolutely blow your mind! Kuala Lumpur does have the occassional individual food stall with lines stretching down the street, especially in the side streets around Chinatown and Petaling Street, but more often than not you will find yourself either at a food court or a small collection of hole in the wall kitchens with an area set aside for plastic tables and chairs on the side of the road, and the food is incredible! Malaysian street food is a colorful and spicy blend of the three main cultures in Malaysia, traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian, with smatterings of Indonesian, Tamil, Thai and a few others thrown in for good measure, and that has led to some diverse and unique regional dishes. Along with Laksa, a spicy noodle soup with coconut milk, Nasi Lemak is considered one of the country’s national dishes, rice cooked in coconut mil with a variety of sides from egg and vegetables to meat and sambal. If you like your food both sweet and spicy, and I do, then you cannot visit Kuala Lumpur without finding at least one street food vendor!
Food in general is a huge part of the soul of Seoul, and street food especially is the lifeblood of this energetic Korean city. The sheer amount of street food stalls on busy streets, packed subway stations and local markets at Gwangjang or Bamdokkaebi night market essentially make Seoul one big open kitchen. Traditional Bindaetteok (mung bean cakes) and Pajeon (savory vegetable pancakes) are the nations favourite cheap eats, and Kimbap, a kind of sushi roll is available everywhere, but to get to the heart of street food culture in Seoul you have to head to Sindang Dong Tteobokki Town, the birthplace of the eponymous Tteokbokki, a rice cake drenched in spicy sauce. This sprawling market has seemingly endless Tteobokki stalls selling endless variations of this traditional snack and crowds of locals looking for their favourite snack.
Merida City, capital of Yucatan Estado, has some of the best street food in South America, and given Mexico’s cultural claim on international cuisine, that says a lot! It’s often not the healthiest food in the world, and is usually the messiest street food you can eat, but it is absolutely delicious! There are a ton of street food options that either originated in Merida or are very difficult to find outside of the city, which is why any food loving traveller needs to make there way here at least once. Cochinita is a local delicacy, a slow roasted pig that is cooked in a traditional Mayan oven and served in a torta, or sometimes stuffed inside salbutes (a puffed, deep fried tortilla), and Marquesitas are a sweet treat that originated in Merida, named for the daughters of a local Marquis who made the desert famous, and are a simple crepe filled with cajeta, jam, chocolate and sometimes a few other toppings too. Found on little road side stalls or eateries all over the city, you cannot leave without trying these dishes at least once! The only real down side to staying too long in Merida is that you have to exercise a lot to counter all the weight you will absolutely put on!
Madeira is famous for its food and drink with a number of dishes unique to the island, and the best way to enjoy them all, other than exploring the islands many restaurants of course, is simply to wander the streets of Funchal and try out as many cafes and eateries as you can!
If you have any room left after stuffing your face with the islands famous lapas or espetadas, there are a huge amount of easy street food options for you to enjoy as you wander the streets of Funchal, from the small dishes of Pichadino to Bolo de mel de Cana, but the best and most delicious street foods are ususally the most simple, and the Prego sandwich fits that bill perfectly! Found everywhere all over the island it is Madeira’s favourite go to snack on the way home from a big night out! It is basically just bolo de caco bread – another island staple – with a garlic butter and thin slices of beef steak. I ate this at least once a day it is so good!
With small cafe tables spilling out onto picturesque, tree lined boulevards, traditional Portuguese architecture, squares filled with art and statues, Funchal is full of charm that can only be truly experienced by sitting down and people watching with a glass of wine and a snack or two. The only real problem you have is choosing which one of the many locally owned cafes and artisan eateries to sit down at!
Most of India can lay a claim to being a foodie paradise to be honest, but the best part about the street food scene in Mumbai is that it draws heavily from each of the unique regions in India, from the spicy north to the sweeter influences of the south, and has its own variation on the classic dish that make this backpacker hub a street food mecca. There are countless street food stalls all over the city, with a significant emphasis on veggie optionsand pav dishes, which are basically breads served with curry. The largest clusters are usually around the fort area as well as the main transport hubs like the train station and other touristy areas, but one of the best ways to spend an evening is walking down Chowpatty beach enjoying the stalls there. Special mention has to be made for the fruit juice stalls too, technically not a street food but when it is mango season you have to get a fresh mago juice from one of these stalls! I literally got addicted to these here!
Paris may be better known for its glitzy Michelin star restaurants and oh so posh fine dining, and fair enough it more than deserves that reputation, but it is also surprisingly great at street food too! If you fancy a chocolate filled crepe while taking in the views of the Eiffel Tower there are a dozen crepe stands to choose from, open air markets like Marche des Enfants Rouges serve up tasty pastries and sandwiches, and of course sitting in a street side cafe while drinking a cup of coffee and people watching is a Parisian tradition! I guess you can say traditional Paris cafe culture is its street food culture, and you can’t go wrong with some great, simple jambon and feta sandwiches, but Paris is embracing change with its roving Food Market Festival, the first street food event held one Thursday every month (it changes) where chefs and restauranteurs gather to celebrate simple, local cheap eats.
New York City.
Whole wars have broken out in New York over which eatery has the best bagel, hot dog or pizza, that is how good the food is here! Street food in NYC is dominated by pretty much what you’d expect from American fair, with hot dogs and pizza vying for top spot as the iconic New York street food with food stands and small hole in the wall eateries filling up the corners of almost every block in the city; and that is why NYC street food has a place on this list, because getting a hot dog with mustard on Central Park West or picking a side on the best Manhattan pizza pie wars are an iconic part of any visit to the city. But given its reputation as a melting pot of cultures you can also find a huge selection of street food cuisine from pretty much every culture imaginable! What you will find in NYC though is a uniquely Americanised version of traditional foods, maybe not quite as spicy or as authentic as you would in their place of origin, but just as delicious and unique enough to be considered fusion food in their own right.
Like most regions of India, Gujurat has its own very unique cuisine, distinctive from anywhere else in the massively diverse country. This western states food is unique in its mixture of sweet and sour flavours, but more than that it is predominantly vegetarian, influenced by its Jain culture. Meat is available, primarily in the form of chicken, fish and mutton, but is not the norm and is referred to as ‘non veg’, indicating the dominance of the vegetarian options.
Like much of India, street food in Gujurat is everywhere, in local markets, on street stalls and in small local kitchens with plastic chairs and tables. These are where locals eat every single day and as well as forming part of your cultural journey through the state, Gujurati food will be some of the best you have ever tasted! The Thali is ubiquitous in Gujurat and although it is technically a full meal it is essentially a lot of different vegetable dishes in seprerate bowls eaten with roti, and can be found anywhere in the state, but it is the little snacks that make up the heart of Gujurati street food. Lilva Kachori is a small fried pastry filled with toovar and green beans and is served with a variety of chutney, and Muthia is a famous Gujurati snack that can be eaten at any meal and is made from chickpea flour, gourd, methi or spinach and various spices, making it great for celiacs or those with gluten intolerances too. My favourite snack, ideal for just picking up in bags and munching on throughout the day is Fafda, a small crunchy snack, kind of like crisps, made from besan or gram flour, making it another ideal gluten free snack. The dough is mixed with carom seeds and black pepper and then deep fried. I could eat these all day (and often did)!
Filipino street food does have a bit of a dull reputation but this is almost wholly unfair. South East Asia as a region is generally very well known for it’s food, and I think Filipino cuisine suffers a lot in comparison to its neighbours Singapore and Thailand, both of which are ultra foodie destinations and have world famous signature national dishes. Filipino food does not have that , and its entirely unique mixture of Asian and Western influences often defy easy categorisation.
Unlike most food from the region, food in the Philippines has very strong and distinct Spanish and American influences which makes it completely different to anything else you will get in the region, or even the world. It is in these fusion dishes where Manila’s street food really shines, and frankly there is no food quite like it anywhere else in the world. Where else can you find Halo Halo, a local ice cream topped with cheese? (That’s right, I said cheese!) Or Sili ice cream which is infused with chilly? Or a local vendor sitting on the side of the road selling the local (and infamous) delicacy Balut, an egg with the developing embryo of a duck that is boiled and eaten directly from the shell? Manila’s street food scene certainly has some of the strangest, but also most delicious culinary concoctions I have ever come across, and the strong partnership of local traditional food, regional variations and an eclectic love of fusion food, not to mention their love of chillies, will give any open minded traveller an explosion of taste and flavour if they just give it a go
I hope this list has tantalised your tastebuds as much as your wanderlust, and inspires you to get out there and start trying some of these dishes yourself! Is there any great foodie city you think I have left off the list? Let me know in the comments below.
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