A small roadside stall peddling assorted pastries or vendor rowing a boat while scooping a spoonful of soup noodles into a tiny bowl for hungry patrons might not have the same atmosphere as a white tablecloth setting but street food offers a different sort of thrill. These often-cheap comfort foods provide a different perspective to a city, one that’s sometimes gritty but usually authentic. Here are 10 cities around the world that do it best.
Head to Gwangjang Market, the city’s oldest market, where vendors sell kimbap (rice and other condiments wrapped in seaweed) and spicy, gooey rice cakes called tteokbokki. In the popular Namdaemun Market, try mandu – fried or boiled dumplings stuffed with minced pork, kimchi and onions. Even the pedestrian walkways of more gentrified neighbourhoods such as Insadong and Itaewon are lined with vendors selling hotteok (pancakes with honey and nuts) and tiny eateries that serve cheap bibimbap with many spicy and fragrant side dishes.
2. Mexico City
A fried egg taco and fresh guava juice at the sprawling Mercado La Merced, Mexico’s largest traditional food market, is the perfect way to start the day. For a different sort of street food experience, visit Xochimilco, a neighbourhood known for its colourful boats and canals. Grab a tortilla from a floating vendor and browse Mercado de Xochimilco, a farmer’s market that also sells delicacies such as banana leaf tamales. And not for the faint-hearted is Mercado San Juan, a gourmet market specialising in exotic foods such as scorpions and alligators.
3. Rio De Janeiro
Pastel, tapioca, coxinha – Rio’s street food vendors are a bright fixture of the city. Every Sunday, farmer’s market spring up across Rio, beckoning passers-by with homemade cheeses and freshly-pressed sugar cane drinks. Keep an eye out for mobile stalls cooking pastel (thin crust pies), tapioca (sweet or savoury pancake made with tapioca flour) and coxinha (shredded chicken). Beach snacks are also a must and you can’t go wrong with corn on the cob, churros and of course, acai.
Food trucks are just as integral to the Hawaiian way of life as surfing, with many visitors stopping at Matsumoto Shave Ice to cool down after a morning at Hale’iwa’s beaches – Matsumoto has been serving rainbow-coloured shave ice since 1951. Another institution of sorts is the Rainbrow Drive-In, known for their sinful loco moco, a Hawaiian staple of rice, hamburger patties, eggs and gravy served on a Styrofoam plate, and Ahi Assassins undeniably makes the tastiest poke. For a festive treat, Eat the Street Hawaii is a monthly food festival with stalls that run the gamut from Pad Thai to spam nachos.
Istanbul’s simit vendors are unmissable – bright red carts with glass containers that reveal fresh, neatly stacked rows of simit or round, sesame-crusted bread perfect for breakfast on the go. Also look out for carts selling açma, a delicious and sweet buttery pastry, and balık ekmek, which consists of fresh grilled fish and salad in a bun. The latter is sold on the iconic Eminönü square, near docked boats where it is prepared.
A visit to the vendors that sell soup noodles from wooden boats floating on narrow canals by Victory Monument is an adventure itself. These “boat noodles” range from sweet to savoury and are served with fish balls, meat and veggies. Nang Loeng Market is another traditional neighbourhood market selling foods representing the area’s ethnic makeup, including Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian. For a different kind of experience, head to Ari. Although the neighbourhood has gained a reputation as a hipster haunt, its street food, including khao man gai (chicken rice) and Pad Thai are still spectacular.
While scorpions and other deep-fried insects on skewers found on Wangfujing Snack Street are mostly for tourists’ amusement, street vendors here also sell delicacies such as tanghulu or candied fruits on skewers, a popular winter snack. During summer, order a refreshing bowl of cold noodles with sesame sauce and pickled cucumbers – or a bowl of snail rice noodles – at Huguosi Hutong Snack Street, a charming street with a history stretching back to 700 years.
There’s something to satiate all palates in this lively port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Street food vendors are found mostly in the Old Town, a walled city enclosing colourful colonial-era buildings and cobbled streets. Here, women bedecked in frilly, multi-coloured dresses balance large bowls of fruits on their heads and sell mix fruit cups and juices. Pair your fresh fruit with bollo – a breakfast food of boiled taro or yuca, packed in buns and wrapped in banana leaves. Vendors also sell ceviche though it’s said that the best ceviche in town is at La Cevicheria, a small eatery.
One of the world’s culinary capitals, Rome has no shortage of fine dining options though its street food is just as tantalizing. Since being introduced to the market a few years ago, the trapizzino – a deconstructed pizza shaped as an inverted triangle – is now sold all over Rome, including at Mercato Centrale. Another snack perfect for eating on the go is suppli or fried rice balls stuffed with meat and cheese. Over at Mercato Testaccio, it’s all about quintessential takeout pizza and sandwiches – paired with a glass of wine.
10. Ho Chi Minh City
Banh mi (Vietnamese baguette) is king in Ho Chi Minh City and Banh Mi Huynh Hoa manages to make some of the city’s finest banh mi, bursting with shredded meat and perfectly-cut veggies, from their tiny stand. Those looking to test out the strength of their stomachs can try street pho or visit Van Kiep Street, a street lined with stalls selling local specialities ranging from skewered octopus to noodles. Part of the charm is sitting on tiny plastic stools on the street. For a more upmarket street experience, the sheltered Ben Thanh Street Food Market, which opened in 2015, has stalls selling fresh oysters and bún bò huế, a spicy concoction of rice noodle soup with beef.