Finding the World’s Best Street Food

(Last Updated On: July 28, 2016)

It doesn’t take long reading this blog to realize that we love discovering and sampling new street foods. Whether it’s stumbling across a vendor serving up sizzling snacks in a local market, or taking guided tour with a local who knows the best hidden spots, we’re up for it. Over the course of our travels, we’ve eaten some unexpectedly good (sardine meatballs…), some weird (chicken pudding?) and some not for the squeamish (barbecued baby quail, head and all). But we are always ready to go back for more, and are constantly on the hunt for new favorites. So, we asked a number of fellow travelers about their favorite street foods…and had some great responses. Here are the picks of the best street food from these experienced world travelers, in their own words.

Pad Thai (Chiang Mai)

Stefan and Sebastien, Nomadic Boys

Street Food: Pad Thai
Freshly Made Pad Thai

One of our favorite street foods is Pad Thai, this particular one freshly made from Chiang Mai’s night market.

Pad Thai is the national dish of Thailand, popularized by Prime Minister (1938-44 and 1948-57) Plaek Pibulsonggram (or Phibun) as part of his campaign to establish and promote Thai nationalism.

Pad Thai is a stir fry of rice noodles cooked with eggs, fish sauce, garlic, shallots, bean sprouts, coriander leaves, tofu or chicken, tamarind pulp and served with spring onions, crushed nuts and lime juice.

It became popular during the economically harsh 1930s when rice noodles were discovered as a cheap and filling carbohydrate source. Mixed with vegetables and an inexpensive protein, this made a complete meal. Phibun decreed this dish to be promoted to improve the national diet, strengthen the Thai economy and instill a national “Thai” image. During this period of time, Phibun also changed the name of the country from Siam to Thailand, banned local dialects in favor of the Thai language and promoted the use of the Thai word Sawasdee as a greeting.

Pad Thai is known throughout the world and for good reason. It’s extremely delicious, nutritious and very easy to make.

Dumplings (Shanghai)

Carole Terwilliger Meyers, Berkeley and Beyond
Street Food: Shanghai Dumplings
Shanghai Dumplings

What better place to enjoy a Shanghai dumpling than in the Old City of Shanghai?  You can order them just about anywhere–there is even a famous old three-story restaurant with quirky rules applied to each level–but more interesting and inexpensive is to purchase from a street vendor offering straws to suck out the famous soup filling.  Yum!

(And, if you’re wondering how to eat a Shanghai soup dumpling, check out Carole’s video below)

Glass Noodles (Bangkok)

Claudia Tavani, My Adventures Across the World

Street Food: Glass Noodles
Glass Noodles

Before going to South East Asia last February, I was worried about my ability to cope with the local food. I am a terribly picky eater – I won’t just settle for anything that fills my stomach. I look for quality ingredients, distinct taste, and unique flavor. I refuse to eat “weird stuff”. Then I decided to get myself educated with a street food tour of Bangkok and it was one of the best experiences I have had. Of all the dishes I tried on that tour, the one that I wish to have again and again is an amazing dish of delicious glass noodles with cabbage, celery, spring onions, shrimps, eggs and chicken. I was reluctant to try it because of the combination of flavors in them, but I loved them – they were just the right amount of spicy and gulped them down with swigs of cold beer – perfect in the heat of Bangkok.

Ayam Goreng (Langkawi)

Vanessa Workman, The Island Drum

Street Food: Ayam Goreng
Ayam Goreng (Fried Chicken)

When it comes to street food around the world, fried chicken probably doesn’t get much of a second glance. Especially in Southeast Asia. But as a homespun Southern gal, the small Malaysian island of Langkawi keeps me well stocked in good ole fashion fried chicken (almost like mom use to make). Called Ayam Goreng (chicken fried) in Malay language, this local food is quite common place through out Malaysia at night markets and hawker’s stalls.

Street Food: Chicken Lady
The Chicken Lady not giving up any secrets in Langkawi

But one vendor in particular has become my personal favorite and I can zero in on her tasty wares at the Friday and Sunday night markets in Langkawi. I’ve tried to get her secret recipe from her, but she is not easily fooled by my sneaky tactics. I get a smile and selection of her crispy, juicy and oh-so scrumptious Ayam Goreng to satisfy me until my next visit.

Apricots and Mountain Bread (Pakistan)

Will Hatton, The Broke Backpacker

Street Food: Apricots and Mountain Bread
Apricots and Mountain Bread in  the Himalayas

Apricots and mountain bread in Pakistan: Whilst trekking in the Pakistani Himalayas, I found myself staying in a simple shepherds hut in the mountains. There was no electricity, running water or phone signal but my gracious host insisted on feeding me on home-baked mountain bread and tasty dried apricots. Apricots are an important part of the local diet in Hunza and apricot oil is used in almost everything. I was amazed at the incredible hospitality of the mountain people and I was constantly being given big handfuls of apricots to snack on. This was my typical lunch, whilst enjoying the serene surroundings of the mountains.

Thung Tong (Thailand)

Laura Lynch, Savored Journeys

Street Food: Golden Bags
Golden Bags

When we were in Thailand, we tried dozens of different street foods, but our favorite among them all was Thung Tong, also known as Thai Golden Bags. These crispy, deep-fried pastry purses are filled with a mixture of minced chicken or pork and shrimp, mushroom and green onions. They are then tied up with chives to make a money bag and served with sweet plum sauce or Thai sweet chili sauce. We first came across them at a floating market outside Bangkok and then we looked for them everywhere else we went because of how delicious they were. If they came right out of the fryer, they were even better. They are very similar to spring rolls, but there’s something about the way they are wrapped up and served like a plate full of little bags of gold that make them so special.

Arancini (Italy)

Sean and Jen, Venturists

Street Food: Arancini
Arancini stuffed with ham and cheese

Arancini are rice balls, stuffed with various fillings, covered with bread crumbs and then deep-fried. We found them throughout Italy, although they originated in Sicily. In Rome you’ll find very similar, but smaller, cheese-stuffed ones called supplí¬. So named due to the “surprise” filling inside. Regardless of the size, these stuffed rice balls are the ultimate Italian finger food. Sold at small shops and standup bars, you just order one and break it open, never being 100% sure of what filling you’ll find in the center. A delicious surprise!

Bún bí² Nam Bá»™ (Hanoi)

Taylor & Daniel, Travel Outlandish

Street Food: Bún bí² Nam Bá»™
Bún bí² Nam Bá»™

We’d be lying if we didn’t admit to finding a new favorite food after each trip, but this time, we mean it! Or at least we think we do. Northern Vietnamese street food is a haphazard mix of French, Chinese, and Southeast Asian influences. There’s almost no reason why Vietnamese food should come out as a fresh, spicy, robust, damn-near-perfect meal every time, but trust us on this. If you’re ever in Hanoi, head to Bún bí² Nam Bá»™ for a bite of its namesake dish. Bún bí² Nam Bá»™ is cold vermicelli served with grilled lemongrass beef, fresh herbs, pickled carrots and daikon, fried shallots, and peanuts. Go once, go twice, or go three times (we did!) and prepare yourself to leave Vietnam with a new favorite dish.

Milan Street Food

Nick and Margherita, The Crowded Planet

Nick and Margherita took their love of street even further – they embarked on a 30 day challenge to discover the best street food in Milan, and captured it all on video. Check out their 31 videos (one for each day, plus a bonus) on their YouTube channel. Or you can head here to check out their Ultimate Milan Street Food Guide.

Nasi Lemak (Malaysia)

Allison Wong, Urbanite Diary

Street Food: Nasi Lemak
Nasi Lemak
Nasi Lemak is Malaysia’s national dish and best street food that everybody loves. Its name in Malay literally means “oily or fatty rice”, traditionally prepared with rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves, then garnished with anchovies, cucumbers, roasted peanuts, hard boiled egg, and spicy sambal sauce, sometimes with the extra fried chicken or beef rendang if you’re feeling very hungry. Because it is so versatile and flexible with the wide selection of accompaniments, no wonder this dish is no just Malaysia’s favorite breakfast choice but it is also now served and eaten any time of the day. Nasi lemak was recently voted the top 10 healthy breakfast by TIME magazine in March 2016, which praised its balance nutrition with lots of manganese, protein, and carbs. It is also believe that the chili in the sambal sauce help to boost metabolism.

Night markets in Taipei

Ivana and Gianni, Nomad Is Beautiful

Street Food: Taipei Night Market
Taipei Night Market Snack
Even if you’re familiar with the street food scene in Southeast Asia, you’ll be surprised by the huge array of snacks that Taipei night markets can offer. The smell of stinky tofu, roasted black sesame and peanuts, grilled mushrooms with giant fried chicken steak, black pepper pork buns or thick noodle soups will make you drooling and your resolutions to be modest with the food portions will be gone in a second! The prices of the street food in Taipei are very affordable and the markets are open till late night, so you can grab a bite also when coming back home late. They have limited vegan and vegetarian options, but you definitely won’t stay hungry there!

Worried about Street Food?

If these street foods look delicious to you, but you’re concerned about eating food of the street? Don’t worry, we eat it all the time, and have never gotten sick. But, don’t just trust us. Our friend Travel Dave put together this great guide on eating street food safely, that you should definitely check out:

Street Food: Safety

 

Do you love discovering new street food too? Check out these other posts:

The Ultimate Guide to Istanbul Street Food

Palermo Street Food Tour — Sicilian StrEats

Hanoi Vietnam Street Eats

The Best Street Food I Ever Ate

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Finding The World's Best Street Food

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15 thoughts on “Finding the World’s Best Street Food”

  1. All these dishes look delicious and worth a try. When we travel one of the most important aspect of our trip is trying the local food. This can be on the street or in a small shop where the locals eat. There are several items on your list I have not tried, but I would love to. Like the Nasi Lemak, Bún bò Nam and the Arancini.

  2. After spending almost half a year in Southeast Asia, we’ve eaten loads of street food and it is the #1 thing we miss about that region. Street food is our favorite things to eat, it’s often the most delicious and most satisfying. If I may add, one of the best street food I had was oyster pancakes in Thailand. Thanks for this great post, can’t wait to get some delicious street food soon!

  3. Yum I love street food. The Thai Golden Bags look particularly tasty. Some of our fav’s include Arepa’s stuffed with an egg in Colombia and Empanada’s from Argentina. Turkey also had some great street food.

  4. Uhhhhhh wow?! I have to visit some of these places JUST for the food! Pad Thai will likely always be my favourite, but damn, some of that street food looks to die for! Don’t remember if I tried the golden purses in Thailand :O Guess I’ll have to go back, what a shame!

  5. Ooh I’d love to try the apricots and mountain bread in the Himalayas. I try and sample local food wherever we travel. I’ve rarely been disappointed.

  6. Oh myyy, you make my mouth water!!! I remember the Nasi Lemak in Malaysia like it was yesterday. The rich and creamy rice, the sambal so spicy that tears would shoot to your eyes, and the crispy anchovies and crunchy peanuts. A feast of flavors and textures. I love it and can’t wait to try it again!

  7. Omg, the street food in Thailand was amazing!! You could eat like a king for almost nothing and it all tasted so amazing! Some of these other things I haven’t heard of, so thanks for putting this together. I can’t wait to try them!

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