There’s a mystic quality to street food that tickles our imagination with flashes of home cooked meals and local fairs, regardless of how far ‘home’ may actually be. It’s the spirit of the food which brings us back to our roots, with each stall adding to the tapestry of local, lovingly made cuisine.
However strongly your origins may contrast with your current location, the warm sense of community melded into street food is enough to rid weary travelers of homesickness. Along with the affable human interaction, roadside eats also scale on the cheaper side of things. So if you’re a backpacker on a tightly disciplined budget, or simply caught a case of the traveler’s blues, read on to find cities with the best street food!
Taco Bell will forever disgust you, if it hasn’t already, when you see the sheer magnitude of Mexican food on-the-go in this city. Tacos, burritos, tomales, quesadillas, and hot off the press tortillas sold by the kilogram. Make no mistake, the carnitas are real, not synthetic, with the entire pig slow roasted before your eyes.
Due to intense heat, you’ll doubtlessly crave soothing refreshments as well. Luckily, chilli fruit stands pockmark the hectic motorways, coating each item with lime juice and chili powder. Likewise, fruit juice stalls are just as numerous, many of which uniquely incorporate Mexican cactus into the blend.
Mumbai denizens of every class flock to stands selling vada pav; mashed potato gobs layered with garlic and herbs, then fried in a light buttery batter until hot and golden. Similarly, you’ll be accosted with roti-wrapped delicacies at every turn, usually stuffed with chicken tikka straight from the skewers.
Speaking of which, Mumbai’s euphorically tender kebabs will tempt you to make a meal of them. But seriously, save room for pav bhaji. Vegetable flavored masala, a hunk of butter churned on the spot, and yellow rolls oozing with yet more butter. It’s so rich you’ll forget you’re traveling on a shoestring.
Tempting as it is, avoid stuffing yourself on just Shanghai’s pork dumplings—set in deep brown pork broth made from every part of the pig—and nothing else. You’d be missing out on shansi leng mian for instance; thin wheat noodles topped with hot slices of ginger coated eels.
For more light-hearted fare try the Ci Fan Tuan. These deceptive treats should be hailed as Schrodinger’s rice balls considering the goodies nestled within. Past the initial layer of white and fragrant rice variations, your teeth will first encounter the salty crunch of you tiao breading. Next you’ll pucker up from a blanket of sour pickles. Finally, eyeballs will roll upon themselves at reaching the duck egg residing central to it all.
Rio De Janeiro
World renowned for its gorgeous swathes of scenic beaches, Rio De Janeiro does beachgoers well with a hearty selection of grab-and-go treats. Empanadas and churros abound, as do Brazil’s signature grilled meats.
The super fruit, acai, is served here in hyper-sweetened fashion in yogurty blends. Stands selling tapioca crusts stuffed with chocolate coated fruits double as an alternate dessert pick, but you can go lunch-worthy as well with ham and cheese fillings. And the heavy black bean soup, caldinho de feijao, goes down smooth with an afternoon drink.
Ho Chi Minh City(Saigon)
The bánh mi sandwiches of Saigon have serviced many a traveler longing once more for the tantalizing crunch of daily-made baguettes. For those willing to look harder, hit up the banh xeo stands. These flaky rice crepes come sizzling right off the griddle to encompass bean sprouts, pork, shrimp, and a smattering of herbs.
Pho stands litter every street corner each morning. But for a lesser known alternative, hunt for stalls serving bun bo hue. Instead of a beef broth, bun bo hue fuses lemon grass and chili for a citrus infused tang. Anotto oil is added for an orange hue and generously sized strips of meat soak up the springtime base.
Nabbing the inside scoop on street stand hideouts in Berlin is a must as they’re less populous than other cities on this list. For authentic German, head to Prenzlauerberg’s Eberswalderstrasse U-bahn station and join a long line of peeps eagerly awaiting their turn at chopped bratwurst lathered in ketchup and curry powder.
To explore an equally grungey exploit, visit Neue Heimat marketplace for samplings the world over. They’re open on Fridays and Sundays with the former heavy on German brew and jazz ensembles. Stalls feature assorted bites from India, the Middle East, and of course greater Europe.
Strong winds of chili peppers and fish sauce from fried meats accost you at every angle on the streets of Bangkok. Street vendors stand at attention with mountains of raw meat just waiting to be fried on command into a rice or noodle dish. Grand buffets with twenty types of curry occupy dusty little alleyways.
Sit-and-stay or grab-and-go, it doesn’t matter, most places offer both. And to spite the hot climate, expect fruit smoothies and coconut juice galore. The selection is truly immense and not to be missed. You won’t find many of these ravishing flavor combinations in Thai joints outside of the country.