I strive to travel in a state of permanent fullness. Anyone recall that scene in Charlotte’s Web where Templeton the rat eats absolutely everything at the fair? Yeah. That’s me when I travel. I’ve chosen travel destinations purely because they’re known to be great street food cities. When abroad, I’ll eat nothing short of everything. Samosas, churros, ceviches, kebabs, mango shakes, and pad thais fill the hunger that an afternoon apple once sufficed. I down entire platos for four and believe that fruit is not dessert.
All of this goes to say that I love eating street food, from a hole-in-the-wall bahn mi spot in Hanoi to a Madrid cafe where you can lazily dip churros in chocolate. If you have great curiosity of the world’s cuisines and a limited budget, there’s no better way to eat when you travel.
Have a sense of adventure, and perhaps some Cipro? Let’s explore the world’s best street food cities.
The World’s Best Street Food Cities
Tokyo | Japan
When you think of Japanese food, you may summon to mind the virtuous cuisine that keeps people alive into their early hundreds. When Japanese street food carts roll out for the night, however, all bets are off. If you find yourself at one of Japan’s many festivals, you can indulge in everything from street-side okonomiyaki (savory seafood pancake) to effortlessly prepared yakisoba (buckwheat noodles) to the more adventurous ikayaki (grilled whole squid). Ready for dessert? Order up some mochi (rice cake) or kakigori (shaved ice) before heading home. When you eat this kind of Japanese food, we can almost promise you won’t live to see 95. Check out our post on things you must eat in Tokyo for the best of Tokyo.
Hanoi | Vietnam
All of our favorite foods seem to come from Vietnam. Crusty bahn mi (Vietnamese baguette sandwich) and spicy, basil-filled pho (noodle soup) just skims the surface of the herby and citrusy delights of Vietnam. Opt for other dishes like bún (Vermicelli noodles) or bo bia (heyyyy, spring rolls) if you’re really trying to experience the full variety of Vietnamese cuisine. Pair all that delicious with Vietnam’s low cost of travel, and really… you should be there tomorrow. We wrote a whole post on Northern Vietnamese street food if you’re headed to Hanoi!
Portland, Oregon | USA
Food trucks, brunch spots, and craft breweries are the things that define Portland’s culinary scene — and perhaps we should throw in donuts, just for good measure. The food here is so locally sourced that they really ought to call it farm to mouth. Head to one of the city’s many food truck roundups for a sampling of more ethnic foods than your average mall food court, and enjoy some of the most unforgettable brunch you’ll ever consume.
Mexico City | Mexico
Ever heard of tamales? How about the exotic fare called tacos? Or perhaps a cheesy, buttery ear of charred corn (elote) will do the trick? Mexico City is one of the greatest places to grub on earth. If you’ve grown up with Mexican food, you’ll never eat enchiladas the same way after a trip to Mexico. Authentic Mexican street food is a feast of fresh herbs, perfectly cooked meat, and effortlessly hot salsas — combine that with the city’s laid back culture, and it’s possible you’ll never leave.
Plan Your Trip: Flights to Mexico
Mumbai | India
Crisped samosas and rich cups of chai are never in short supply in India — perhaps the chai is the very thing that has made Indian street food so legendary. With so many regional dishes to choose from, we asked Richa of Travels & Stories to name favorites. “Mumbai attracts people from all over the country [and is also] home to South Indians, Gujaratis, Parsis, Northerners, Bangladeshis and even expats. As a result, street food from all over India is available in Mumbai. You can find South Indian Dosa-Idli (filled crepe), West Indian Dabeli (potato burgers), North Indian Pani-puris (hollow crisps, filled with potato and sweet/spicy water) and Chaats (mixed fried dough), and Mumbai’s local favorites like Pav-Bhaji (vegetable curry with bread) and Bhel-Puri (another type of Chaat) on pretty much every corner.” You mean we don’t have to choose?
Plan Your Trip: Flights to India
Rome | Italy
I’m not even sure if this requires description. Do you like spaghetti and gelato? Ever heard that Italian food is impeccable? Then it’s settled. Let’s go to Rome, eat, and never show our faces at Olive Garden again.
Plan Your Trip: Flights to Italy
Marrakech | Morocco
The food preparations in Marrakech’s Djeema el Fna unveil a feast worthy of kings, every night. As smoke thickens the evening air in the brightly lit square, travelers and locals alike will eat up everything from steamy tajines (meats and vegetables steamed in a clay pot) to better than average cous cous dishes. Before heading off to a Moroccan hammam, sit down at a long tables pre-set with khobz (Moroccan bread) and pile on fresh salads and grilled meats for the world’s best buffet.
Penang | Malaysia
If you like Indian food, Chinese food, and Malay food, there won’t be a single Malaysian dish you don’t love. Even the simple stuff is fantastic as Sabine of KungFuPrincess on the Road recounts — she ordered a simple-sounding chicken and rice dish served with clear broth and a chicken heart (surprise!) that still stands out as her Malay favorite. On the chicken heart? “I do like them quite a lot so I was delighted!”. From the easy to love nasi goreng (fried rice), to the more polarizing otak-otak (a turmeric and kaffir lime-infused fish pâté wrapped in banana leaf) and ice kacang (an icey, milky, gelatinous dessert) you can eat your way around and feel that you’re getting a taste of the world in the most spick-and-span country there is.
Plan Your Trip: Flights to Malaysia
Amman | Jordan
Before Jordan, our repertoire of Middle Eastern cuisine was limited to store-bought hummus and the occasional falafel. When we discovered a city full of briney pickles, spicy meat koftas (football-shaped meatballs), bright and fresh taboulehs (parsley salad), labeneh (yogurt spread) filled pitas, and all the other delights of the region, we realized just how much we were missing out on. While the kanafah (syrupy, melted cheese?) leaves a bit to be desired, we sure had a good run in Amman. And, we’ll never eat drippy hummus again.
Plan Your Trip: Flights to Jordan
Kaohsiung | Taiwan
Taiwan has skewered up SO much street food, that it’s hard to choose a favorite city — we asked Barry of Tools of Travel to try, and he landed on Kaohsiung. “What makes Kaohsiung so different from other street food is their gourmet style snacking format. Snacks like gua bao, tea eggs, sweet potato, stinky tofu and pig’s blood rice pudding are available, making it more comparable to walking around an oversized buffet than a food street.” While we have mixed feeling about the pig’s blood rice, we’re always ready for some bubble tea!
Plan Your Trip: Flights to Taiwan
Lima | Peru
Lima is creeping up on the international food scene. How do you feel about lime cooked fish (ceviche) sirloin stir fry (lomo saltado), and a regional interpretation of the international favorite, meat skewers (anticuchos)? With so many distinct options, Peruvian street food is exceptionally satisfying. If you’ve got a budget beyond street food, be sure to head to one of the city’s up and coming restaurants or take a cooking class in Lima to sample a few courses of Peruvian-inspired food with a cosmopolitan edge. You won’t regret it.
Berlin | Germany
While currywurst (pork sausage in curry ketchup) may be the worst, the bratwurst and lagers are something to write home about. As any good hipster city should, Berlin has loads of food trucks serving up everything from the most sublime döner kebab (rotisserie meat sandwich) — courtesy of the city’s huge Turkish population — to a good, old fashioned, salted pretzel. Come thirsty, because if you leave Germany without downing a stein of beer (or six), you may not have done the trip correctly.
Plan your Trip: Flights to Berlin