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You don’t need to shell out an arm and a leg at upscale restaurants to experience the most authentic local cuisine – in fact, you can spend very little and eat extremely well at food trucks, street stalls and curb-friendly venues across the globe, especially in these fantastic cities.
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Mexico City is an exciting destination, and foodies should get prepared to be blown away just by the incredible variety and wow factor of street food here. While there’s no denying the appeal of an awesome taco, you’ll find much more than that in the Mexican capital, including roasted corn on the cob coated in mayo, chili flakes, cotija cheese and a squeeze of lime – otherwise known as elote, cornmeal cakes known as tlacoyos and delectable candies made from chile-coated mango. Food stalls selling all this and much more, including those legendary tamales and blue-corn quesadillas, can be found throughout the city as well as centrally located in the markets of Mercado San Juan and La Merced.
In the Windy City, you can find food trucks around The Loop, serving anything from tacos and empanadas to donuts and grilled cheese. You can also head to the open-air flea market at Maxwell Street Market for Polish sausage, served on a bun with yellow mustard and grilled onions, or try Puerto Rican favorites at Humboldt Park, including roast pork and delicious blood sausage. Don’t leave without trying a Chicago-style hot dog at Relish in the Millenium Park area, or a classic elote, or Mexican-style corn on the cob around Logan Square, Humboldt Park and along Clark Street.
Brussels is a beautiful European city known for its art nouveau architecture – but did you also know that this city’s fine dining scene is one of the best in the world? Although it’s not just hoity-toity restaurants that serve its outstanding fare, you’ll find true Belgian Frites, or French fries, at fry stands in everything from converted trailers to more permanent structures, though all come with a head-spinning number of sauces like mayonnaise and a spicy Brazilian form of ketchup. It’s the Brussels’ seafood institution, Noordzee/Mer du Nord, which takes fine dining to the streets with amazing fish soup, homemade grey shrimp croquettes and fried dishes like calamari. Of course, waffles, served by mobile waffle trucks and permanent stalls, topped with powdered sugar, strawberries, whip cream and chocolate, are a must for dessert.
In San Francisco, foodies sidle up to trucks and carts peddling everything from waffles and dark-chocolate crème brûlée to tender pork belly with pickled daikon and green shisho via The Chairman Truck, followed by fans with an unsurpassed intensity and dedication. Roli Roti may come close, with locals and tourists lining up early Saturday morning for a chance to indulge in the porchetta sandwich, roasted pork loin wrapped in crispy pork belly and doused in pinot grigio. Bacon Bacon serves up some amazing options for pork lovers too, with its chocolate-covered bacon and Beta Bacon Breaded Chicken Breast.
Many food carts roam the streets of Portland, Oregon, selling everything from Carolina-style barbecue to reindeer sausage and steaming bowls of ramen. Often jumbled into semi-permanent lots known as “pods,” it makes it easy to find virtually any kind of food on the go. Lunchtime crowds tend to gather around SW 10th Avenue and SW Alder Street, while night owls congregate around SE Hawthorne Boulevard and SE 12th Avenue searching for tasty crepes and cherry pies. The Snow White House, serving up crepes and sandwiches for nearly two decades, is a favorite, whether you’re in the mood for savory or sweet, meat or vegetarian, you’ll find it here.
Berlin is not just a popular historic city, but it also offers some of the best street food across Europe, and it’s not just hangover favorites like currywurst (fried sausage covered in ketchup and curry powder) or Turkish doner kebabs, though they’re both readily available. You’ll also find food trucks like the House of Flying Dumplings, a Berlin mainstay with incredibly tasty traditional Beijing Jiaozi dumplings, available in classic pork and chive or tofu and shitake. Locals head to Burgermeister, located under the Schlesisches Tor station to dine on perfectly grilled burgers while sitting on stools made out of beer crates. You won’t want to miss Die Dollen Knollen-Puffermanufaktur, located at the Sudstern Saturday Market, serving up a classic German potato pancake topped with various offerings like smoked fish or cottage cheese from out of a vintage 1977 Citroen H van, outfitted with extra-hot fryers to get those potatoes nice and crisp.
Seoul has become increasingly popular as a global destination for street food. Pojangmacha, or street vendors, line busy shopping districts to sell their sweet and savory snacks like spicy rice cakes known as dukbokki and sundaes – not your ice cream with a cherry on top, but blood sausage. Some operate open-air carts while others have tiny, portable restaurants that provide shelter from inclement weather. If you’re looking for a cheap, adult beverage, try soju, a Korean spirt made from rice which can usually be found at the Hak-dong intersection.
Istanbul offers a lot more than Turkish doner kebabs, which can be found in just about every city across Europe. Turkey’s largest city offers a wide variety of quick fare, with specialty kiosks scattered throughout its streets, including Mısır, freshly boiled or grilled corn on the cob, usually sprinkled with salt or spices, as well as borek, a delectable flaky pastry, and kumpir – baked potatoes stuffed with everything from olives and sausage to ketchup and pickles. If you’re feeling especially adventurous, try the kokorec: chopped lamb intestines seasoned with oregano and hot pepper.
It’s not easy to navigate the streets of Ho Chi Minh, requiring one to dodge parked and moving motorbikes while tripping over food carts and customers dining in plastic chairs, but one whiff of the amazing aroma of grilled meat and simmering soups is likely to draw you into the chaotic scene. Visit Ben Thanh or Binh Tay markets to savor a magical blend of Southeast Asian spices and ingredients with French colonial cooking techniques. You’ll also want to sample local dishes, like bo la lot, seasoned beef in a leaf, and Cơm tấm, cooked broken rice topped with a fried egg. Do keep in mind that eating at busy street food stalls with a high turnover is a good idea from a health standpoint as most don’t have refrigeration.
Los Angeles is credited for kick-starting the food truck craze in the United States, which followed the success of Roy Choi’s Kogi Truck and its Korean tacos. Today, you can find just about any kind of cuisine your heart desires sold on wheels. Near MacArthur Park at South Park View Street between West 7th Street and Wilshire, old school vendors feature pupusas stuffed with cheese and edible loroco flowers while a new generation of trucks is serving up rich and buttery grilled cheese and custom ice cream sandwiches.
The street food of Kuala Lumpur is predominantly a combination of Malay, Chinese and Indian with some influences from across Southeast Asia and beyond, including Sumatran, Javanese, Japanese, Thai and Arabian all thrown into the mix. The city has an abundance of indoor and outdoor food centers and markets, including roti breads stuffed with kaya and Ramly burgers that include egg and Worcestershire sauce in addition to the usual fixings. At Jalan Alor, formerly known as the Red Light district, you’ll enjoy some of the very best in an area that caters to the gastronomical passions of its patrons. The entire street is jammed on both sides with hawker stalls and eateries, mostly Chinese, some of which are open all night.
Bangkok is considered the ultimate destination for street-food obsessives. For centuries, food sellers operated out of boats along the canals that formed the city’s main transportation system. Today, not only will you find the Taling Chan floating market along the western edge of Bangkok with vendors grilling fishing and steaming crabs right on their boats every weekend, but it’s almost impossible to find a section of sidewalk that doesn’t have a food stall of some kind. In Chinatown, some of the most flavorful street treats come from makeshift stands offering fragrant fish curries and pork skewered on sugar canes as well as durian, the notoriously smelly fruit.
Street food in New York City has long been a local tradition, with countless hot dog, kebab and pretzel stands along its streets. More recently, some fancy new food trucks have made their way to the Big Apple, solidifying street food as one of the city’s many attractions. You’ll find places like Sammy’s Halal, operated by former taxi driver Samiul Haque Noor who says he’s in it not for the money, but for the love of serving, featuring dishes like marinated dark-meat chicken over a pile of fragrant Afghan-style long-grain rice.
Singapore’s street food is delivered through a more “civilized” experience that comes complete with table service in food courts known as hawker centers like Chinatown’s Maxwell Food Centre. Customers typically leave their belongings at a marked table, check out the offerings, which tend to include everything from spicy Malaysian pork-rib prawn noodles and Chinese fish ball soup to the quintessential Singaporean dish, chili crab. Cher Yam Tian, who began serving up the spicy crustaceans from a street cart more than a half-century ago is credited with this invention. The crabs are served whole and stir-fried in a sweet and sour sauce made up of egg, tomato and chili.
Melbourne is home to thriving marketplaces that provide a culinary mash-up of Eurasian street food as well as a multitude of fancy food trucks representing an ever-expanding menu that includes everything from po’ boys, burgers and meat pies to authentic Indian curry and Vietnamese Banh Mi. Thanks to Beatbox Kitchen, which is credited with starting the gourmet mobile food trend in the region, Melbourne’s food trucks still serve fast food, but now you can expect to find your burgers made with prime wagyu beef and pizzas topped with prosciutto and figs.
Italy isn’t exactly known as a fast-food kind of place, so it might surprise you to learn that Palermo, the capital of Sicily, has a world-renowned food scene. Deep in the bustling Mercato di Capo, you’re likely to get one of the best introductions to famous Sicilian street fare, including arancini, beautifully flavored fried rice balls stuffed with meat sauce and cheese along with more deep-fried heaven: panelle (chick pea fritters) and cazilli (potato croquettes made with chopped parsley and mint and then deep-fried). Of course, the Sicilian pizza is pretty good too.
The centuries-old markets of Marrakech have long been a popular destination for chefs looking for the most flavorful meats, specialty spices and grains. In the Medina, or old city, you’ll find one of the most colorful places on the planet, with bowls overflowing with olives and barrels of spices like cinnamon, ginger, saffron and turmeric along with tapestries, ceramic tagines and hookahs. In the main square, Djemaa el Fna, food stalls sell skewers of seasoned meats, harira (lentil and chickpea soup) and escargot. Wooden tables are set up for patrons to enjoy all sorts of dishes, including roast lamb and couscous, aubergine fritters (sliced aubergine dipped in sweet smoked paprika batter and deep-fried), spicy sardines and steamed sheep head.
Tel Aviv offers a vibrant scene of cheap eats, including street stalls selling fantastic vegetarian fare like sabich, which was introduced by Iraqi Jews, first making an appearance in Israel some 50 years ago, but more recently becoming a local favorite. This is a pita-filled delight featuring eggplant, egg and potato accompanied by hummus, tomato, parsley, tehina, cucumber, purple cabbage and onion. Of course, you’ll also find dozens of food stands serving falafel, particularly along Ibn Gvirol Street.
Street-side food vendors are practically everywhere on Hong Kong island as well as the Kowloon side, with visitors flocking to the jam-packed night market on Temple Street in Kowloon to dine on fried seafood like oysters, prawns and squid as well as curried fish balls and cheap hot pots. It’s also the place to go for the more adventurous who’d like to sample skewers of organ meats and stinky tofu. Stalls that have tables and chairs typically serve noodle dishes, while others are more of the take-out type.
Many believe Mumbai has the best curbside cuisine in the world – it’s certainly one of the best cities for street food with thousands of stalls and the fragrance of aromatic spices wafting through the streets. Street food has been a way of life for hundreds of years, found on every corner and any time of the day or night. Some of the most popular delights include chaat, round snacks made of hollow dough embellished with spices and vegetables and pay dishes, like vegetable pay bhaji and vada pay, a potato fritter in a garlic bun.