Life

The Best Cities On Earth For Street Food Right Now


Uproxx

I fell in love with street food on my first two passport-requiring adventures — a surf/ party weekend in Northern Mexico and a 10 day university trip (in which I skipped all education-related activities to eat gyros and play backgammon with ancient men in the streets of old Athens). When I started travel writing, I embedded street food recommendations into articles about luxury resorts. In that pre-Bourdain era, there was still some stigma amongst travelers about eating from vendors. People didn’t understand that restaurant warming lights are just hot enough to grow bacteria, while the grills and woks on street carts are hot enough to kill it.

Then came that tall drink of water, Tony Bourdain, and tourists fell in love with the quickly-prepared foods they should have sought out in the first place. Now, crowds flock to street carts. There are Michelin-starred hawker stands in Singapore and an annual World Street Food Jamboree. In 2017, you can’t have a serious culinary conversation without talking street food — not just because it’s the food of the people, but because it’s where age-old traditions stay intact, where experimentation flourishes, and where new culinary voices have the chance to operate without overhead.

Uproxx senior writer Zach Johnston and I huddled up to pick our favorite street food cities on earth. We hit most continents, though western Europe got skunked, as did South America. South Africans could protest the blatant omission of Bunny Chow (which is delicious!) and Salvadorans might take umbrage with pupusas not pushing their way onto the list(also delicious!).

Better we admit up front: With a whole world to cover, we surely missed something. Tell us what in the comments!

— Uproxx Life Editor, Steve Bramucci

SINGAPORE

Let’s start out with the strongest pick. Singapore has a deep bench of street food. The multicultural island draws from Malay, Chinese, Indian, and western diasporas and the food culture is superb because of it.

A stroll down Orchard Road is rife with walk-up Dairy Queens, Starbucks, burger joints, fried food on a stick stands, and so much more. It’s like a giant outdoor mall. Pop down to Chinatown and you’ll find hawker stalls (huge semi-outdoor/indoor food halls) where every cuisine from the Chinese mainland is available — from fresh frogs slaughtered-to-order to chili crabs dripping with spice. Not in the mood for Chinese? Hit up Little India for some of the best curry and tandoor outside of India. In between all of that, you’ll find the Malay community hawking rendang curries, fried rice, and noodle soups. You could spend a month just eating in Singapore and only scratch the surface of the amazing street foods available. – ZJ

Don’t miss the two Michelin-starred street food stalls! One sells Hainanese Chicken and Rice and the other has pork noodles. Both are delicious. – SB

NORTHERN BAJA, MEXICO

I don’t want to take advantage of the city rule, but Ensenada, Puerto Nuevo and Rosarito are all together smaller than any of the cities mentioned thus far. Don’t worry, I won’t ask to include Tiajuana in this megalopolis — though the street food there is awesome.

So what does the Northern Baja have? DO get me started: Rosarito and Ensenada have the best carne asada in the country and the best al pastor outside of Mexico City. These are meats cooked hot — not the delicious bubbling pots of Zach’s beloved puebla, but quick, easy street tacos. Puerto Nuevo and Ensenada have lobster and fish tacos served right on the street, second to none. If you visit during lobster season, you can by your bugs right off the boat.

Plus, the region boasts two absolute street food superstars: The famous Tacos El Yaqui — where they make beef “perrones” (imagine a tender seasoned-beef quesadilla) — and the Bourdain-approved La Guerrerense. Sabina Bendera’s mariscos tostadas with octopus, crab, fish, and a wide range of incredible salsas, will be the best you ever taste. – SB

KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA

Kuala Lumpur, or KL to the initiated, is another wonderland of amazing street food. Around every corner you’ll find little hidden away niches with kitchens stocked with greens, sauces, and proteins and a wok ready to cook it all up. Curry stands sit in alleys, fried rice carts meander through the city, claypots simmer away over open fires right on the streets. As night falls, a cornucopia of foods fill the streets and it feels like the whole city comes out to eat together on rickety tables and plastic stools amongst hanging ducks and pork shoulders.

It’s a communal and delicious experience where a great set of chicken satay sticks doused in spicy peanut sauce will make everyone at your table smile. – ZJ

MUST TRY: Chicken laksa is the best soup on earth, IMO. Perhaps more significantly, it’s the best hangover dish, hand’s down. – SB

PORTLAND, OREGON (USA)

There’s no debating it: PDX led the charge for food carts on American soil. Salt & Straw started as a cart, so did Lardo and Nong’s Khao Man Gai. They’re all thriving restaurants now.

In P-Town, food trucks are part of the fabric. They sit in pods, collected in every hip neighborhood in the city. Downtown, there’s an entire city block ringed with them. This is U.S. street food culture at its finest: Dreamers with big ideas and small budgets, building brands and expanding as they go. – SB

MUMBAI, INDIA

Mumbai is an intense city. The smells are massive. The bustle is cacophonous. The food is bold. Even a humble samosa with a little bit of sauce on the side for dipping can become a religious experience as smooth starches meld with a martix of spices that cuts straight to your soul.

Then there’s the Pav Bhaji. This is a gravy/curry served with what we’d consider a fluffy dinner roll that’s been grilled with a lot of butter. You dip that buttery, crispy roll into the gravy and soak it all up. It’s like stealing the last of the gravy on Thanksgiving while grandma is busy in the other room. Oh, and grandma knows how to throw down with some serious spices in this case. Add in the crunch of some fresh red onion and you’ve got one of the best street foods in the world on one plate. It’s a little messy, a lot spicy, and full of buttery goodness. – ZJ

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BANGKOK, THAILAND

It’s silly to ignore Bangkok in the street food convo. There’s this certain desire to be uber cool and pass on mentioning the city that really sparked a movement, but that attitude is whack. Bangkok street food is amazing. Undeniably. Part of this comes from the fact that many Thai foods are cooked quickly over high heat. A chili paste or curry may take hours to prepare, but the meal itself is typically pan fried over a high flame — natural for a hawker stall.

Walk the streets of Bangkok — starting in Bang Rak, Chinatown, Rattanakosin, or Khao San — making sure to try papaya salad, chili basil pork, and the Thai riff on Hainanese chicken and rice,Khao Man Gai. As your dish cooks, rub your hands together like a kid on Christmas and prepare to be dazzled by the city that really started it all. – SB

No trip to Bangkok’s street is complete without seeking out Hoy Tod. It’s a crispy oyster omelet that’s so uniquely Thai (and uniquely delicious) that you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything else like it on earth. – ZJ

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Bangkok Street Food at Midnight😪😪

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LAHORE, PAKISTAN

Eastern Pakistan is a big favorite amongst more adventure minded backpackers. There are a lot of reasons why, but for this exercise the food is the biggest reason to love Pakistan. Lahore’s main hawker drag is one of those places that’ll transport you back to a time when someone like Indiana Jones might have walked the streets getting ready for another grand adventure into the wilds of Central Asia.

Fort Road in Lahore is known as Food Road. Mobile restaurants line either side of the street with dozens of options for your dining pleasure. Freshly slaughtered chickens and lambs hang from windows while pots of spicy gravy and mind-bogglingly fluffy basmati rice waft aromas that will lure you in closer and closer. Juice stands intermingle with massive woks frying up sweet treats, samosas, and well-spiced potato wedges. And that’s just the start. Kebabs of every variety sizzle over open fires while naan piles up next to tandoori ovens with big bowls of garlic laced yogurt ready for dipping.

One thing’s for sure, you won’t go home hungry. – ZJ

HONG KONG

Hong Kong knows street food. Walk down the Kowloon’s main drag and you’ll literally stumble across hundreds of vendors. Every step brings new smells. Each vendor has something you haven’t seen before. And here’s the best part of the whole scene: In HK, they aren’t going to bend to your Western palate. If you want to enjoy Hong Kong’s street food you need to be ready to try curry fish balls, cheung fun, and octopus tentacles.

Here’s the good news: Once you try them you’ll be thrilled that you did! Then, when you’re finally full, treat yourself to a bubble waffle as you wander the neon-lit streets.

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Hong Kong has a variety of street foods 👅

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BERLIN, GERMANY

This one feels a million miles away from Pakistan and the rest of the amazing food on the streets of Asia. But, damn if Berlin doesn’t have some great street food that’s still wicked cheap (by European capital standards anyway). There’s a deep love of fresh, local, and seasonal ingredients in Berlin that drives a lot of the food culture. But there’s still plenty of very pleasurable comfort foods to be had.

A right of passage in Berlin is standing in line very late at night and very inebriated for a ‘currywurst mit pommes.’ That’s a standard hot dog-like sausage that’s fried on a grill-top then slathered in curry powder infused ketchup. Add a side of crisp thick-cut fries with a healthy dollop of mayo and you’ve got the perfect drunk food to make the final journey home — or to the next bar. Another standard bearer of Berliner street food is the Döner Kebab. Veal or chicken is roasted on a döner spit. It’s then carved off into a soft sesame bread roll and topped with garlic sauce, chili sauce, and a menagerie of salad and crumbly cheese. It’s a gut bomb that’s perfect day or night and has come to define Berlin’s street food scene. – ZJ

ANTANANARIVO, MADAGASCAR

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This is our dark horse pick. Antananarivo’s scene is going to require exploration, savvy, and an intrepid spirit. But hear this: The city’s famous Zebu skewers might just be the best street food on earth. Zebu is a Malagasy cattle. It’s humped and the meat tastes extremely iron-rich. In the markets of Tana, you’ll see old women hunched over coffee cans full of coals, roasting this succulent meat. Each skewer — with five cubes of Zebu steak — will set you back a quarter; each bit from said skewer might just change your life.

What else? Well, there’s the local rice water, all the 10-cent baguettes you could ever want, and the best grilled frog legs on the planet. You want a food exploration? Go straight to this Afro-Asiatic mini-continent. – SB

PUEBLA, MEXICO

We’ve hit on why Puebla is one of the best food scenes in Mexico before. And we’re here to drive that point home one more time. Puebla’s street food is stellar even by Mexico’s amazing food standards.

A walk down the streets of Puebla — night or day — will be a treat for the senses. Tacos Arabas, cemitas, molotes, chalupas, and gorditas need to be on everyone’s radar when they’re looking for a bite on the streets. There’s a sense of character to Puebla’s street food. Old grandmas stand over bubbling pots of stews and deep friers as they peddle food that comforts as much as it tantalizes. Just like in KL and Singapore, everyone seems to come out to eat on the streets. There’s a communal sense to the food around Puebla. You can grab a beer with some green and red sauce soaked chalupas and have a nice chat to whoever else is at the stand enjoying the food. Strike up a conversation over a crispy and cheesy gordita and you never know where the night will take you. -ZJ

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#CEMITAS 😋

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LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA (USA)

The city that gave birth to EggSlut and Kogi Truck deserves a spot on any “best of” street food list. Besides those stalwarts, LA’s current lineup is full of bangers. You can gorge on The Lobos criss-cut nacho fries, Free Range’s fried chick sandwiches, and Prince of Venice’s handmade pastas. Plus LA zoning actually celebrates these trucks and makes them easier to access. So get thee to the City of Angels and get thee away from the brick and mortars. LA is food truck heaven. – SB

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