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!
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