Food is an essential aspect of travel that provides a glimpse into a destination’s culture and history. While many tourists opt for popular restaurants, we argue that the streets offer the most authentic and delicious food experience in a new place. To fully appreciate a location’s cuisine, delving into the local street food scene is crucial.
Street food is not just a budget-friendly and convenient way to curb your hunger but also exposes you to a diverse range of delightful flavors. From the dosa cart in New York City to the snack shop in Tokyo, the falafel stall in London, the taco truck in LA, and the unassuming eatery in Paris, the hardworking cooks in these small kitchens prepare dishes that are bursting with flavor and made with love.
Street food around the world satisfies your taste buds and offers a glimpse into history. Some dishes reflect the heritage of immigrant communities, while others represent ancient traditions. Furthermore, certain foods indicate the latest trends introduced by the younger generation.
Must-Try Street Foods from Around the World
Tacos, Mexico City
The origins of Mexican street food can be traced back to Lebanese immigrants who introduced their beloved dishes, including shawarma, and the now ubiquitous vertical meat grills found throughout Mexico City. These cultural influences eventually led to the creation of tacos al pastor, a handheld delicacy featuring spit-grilled pork cooked similarly to lamb shawarma.
Tacos Manolo’s specialty is highly regarded by its customers due to its strong and flavorful taste. The street vendor cleverly maintains the taco’s shape and stability by using two tortillas instead of one – a clever technique commonly used in Mexican cuisine. While it is customary to use red hot sauce as a topping for tacos al pastor, Tacos Manolo sets itself apart from other establishments with its must-try spicy peanut sauce.
Anticuchos, a type of Peruvian street food, are reminiscent of kebabs and can feature different meat varieties, though the beef heart is the most prevalent. The meat is marinated with vinegar, garlic, cumin, and ají pepper before being skewered with vegetables like onions, peppers, carrots, and mushrooms and grilled. The dish is usually served with a boiled potato or a slice of bread and accompanied by a traditional sauce made with garlic, cilantro, onion, lemon juice, beer, and vinegar. Additionally, it is customary to sprinkle salt, vinegar, or lemon juice over the meat before consuming it.
Bungeo-pang, South Korea
In winter, bungeo-ppang, a fish-shaped Korean pastry filled with red bean paste, is a typical street food. The batter for this pastry is made by combining wheat flour, baking powder, water or milk, and sometimes eggs. This mixture is then poured into a fish-shaped mold on a bungeo-pang grill, similar to a waffle iron. After adding sweetened red bean paste, more batter is poured on top before closing the mold and cooking the pastry until golden brown. Bungeo-pang can also be filled with other ingredients, such as pastry cream, chocolate, and pizza toppings.
Bunny Chow, Soth Africa
Bunny chow, a popular South African street food, originated in the Indian community of Durban. The dish is prepared by scooping out the center of a bread loaf and filling it with curry made with ingredients such as mutton, lamb, chicken, or bean. It’s commonly eaten with hands and served with a side salad made of grated carrots, onion, and chili.
Calzones, folded-over pizzas, originated in Naples, Italy, where pizza was invented. These savory delights are crafted from salted bread dough and filled with ham, salami, vegetables, and a combination of mozzarella, ricotta, Parmesan, or pecorino cheese and then baked in the oven. Depending on the region of Italy, calzone recipes may include unique ingredients like eggs or potatoes or use typical pizza toppings. Although a calzone can be a hearty meal, Italian street vendors often serve a smaller size that is easy to eat on the go.
Chapli kebab, Pakistan
The chapli kebab, a flat and circular kebab, originated in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar. Ground beef or mutton is the usual ingredient for the kebab mixture, prepared with wheat flour, eggs, onions, tomatoes, ginger, coriander, green chilies, and spices such as garam masala and chili powder. The mixture is then molded into a round shape and fried or deep-fried. Chapli kebabs are a popular dish in Pakistan. They are also consumed in India, and eastern Afghanistan usually served with naan, rice, or bread in a sandwich with chutney, salad, or yogurt.
Crepes, a thin pastry similar to pancakes, originated in Brittany and are enjoyed throughout France, Canada, and Belgium. They have also become popular in other areas, such as Europe, North Africa, southern South America, and the United States. Crepes can be classified into two types – sweet crepes, made with wheat flour and typically eaten for breakfast or dessert, and savory galettes, made with buckwheat flour. Sweet crepes are often filled with toppings such as Nutella, fruit spreads, whipped cream, or syrup and dusted with powdered sugar or fresh fruit. Savory galettes are typically filled with cheese, eggs, artichokes, ratatouille, mushrooms, and various types of meat.
Fish and Chips, England
Although fish and chips are widely regarded as a quintessentially British dish, their origins can be traced back to other parts of Europe. The creation of chips, or french fries, is attributed to French or Belgian roots, while the introduction of fried fish to Britain is said to have come from Portugal or Spain. In the mid-1800s, resourceful Britons began serving battered cod or haddock with chips. This classic dish is traditionally sprinkled with salt and vinegar and accompanied by mushy peas, curry sauce, gravy, or ketchup. While it used to be wrapped in old newspaper, nowadays, grease-proof paper (sometimes printed with a faux newspaper design) is used instead. During World War II, fish and chips were among the few foods not rationed, cementing their status as a beloved dish in British and English-speaking Commonwealth nations such as Australia and New Zealand.
Hot dogs, United States
Hot dogs are a popular American street food that can be easily found in restaurants, convenience stores, stadiums, food trucks, and hot dog stands in major cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and New York, all of which have their unique hot dog cultures. The dish typically consists of a grilled or cooked sausage served on a steamed hot dog bun and can be customized with various toppings, including ketchup, mustard, relish, onions, coleslaw, cheese, and chili. Hot dog preparation methods and condiment choices can vary across different regions. The United States has numerous excellent hot dog options throughout the country.
Mango Sticky Rice, Thailand
Thai people and other Southeast Asians adore sticky mango rice or khaoniao mamuang, a popular dessert. To prepare it, sticky steamed rice is combined with sweetened coconut milk, flavored with sugar and salt, and allowed to soak the milk. Mango slices are added to the rice, either on top or on the side, and the dish is topped with a drizzle of additional coconut milk. Mango sticky rice is a beloved treat, particularly during Thailand’s April and May summer months, which coincide with peak mango season.