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Street food is the ultimate travel guide: 40 favorite street food dishes in the world

Food and travel, one of life’s great experience intersections. Although we enjoy our share of refined cuisine and elaborate meals at restaurants, it’s often our street food quests — raw on-the-ground journeys that convey authenticity — that yield some of life’s most revealing moments and enlighten us in unexpected ways.

Thai street food stall in Bangkok.
Thailand, our first street food love.


Note: If it’s only food porn you seek, go here. Otherwise, if you enjoy elaborate threads linking travel satisfaction and street eats, read on.Food generally serves as a natural gateway to a more profound understanding of culture and history, people and place. Street food draws us naturally to explore, to press further afield than we otherwise might, allowing us to make greater personal discoveries not only about the flavor of local foods, but also the essence of the cultures they represent.

To those of you who agree, we preach to the culinary choir. But for others, food might be less a priority, a matter of sustenance. To you, we make the case that the active search for street food and novel street level culinary experiences not only fills the bowl, but also feeds the soul.

Here’s how.

Note: Street food aficionados, we use the term “street food” as shorthand for local, authentic culinary experiences. So bear with us as several of the examples in the 40 experiences below are taken from hole-in-wall restaurants, hawker food courts and fresh markets around the world.

5 Ways Street Food Quests Serve as a Tool for Exploration

1. They take your further

Use the street food dish you seek as the final destination. Many of the world’s most fascinating markets and remarkable street food stalls are found in areas well away from tourist centers and popular neighborhoods. The process of seeking out street food often creates a “mission” that takes you across town to and through neighborhoods you might otherwise not visit.

Whether you walk or use public transport, your quest for the ultimate dumpling, bean soup, taco or curry becomes an adventure in itself, with the meal as the goal, but the journey as the unexpected payoff.

2. They take you deeper

Street food is remarkably democratic, for we all need to eat. One of the best ways to meet and engage with ordinary, local people and land the holy grail of authentic local interaction (i.e., outside of tourism and service professionals) is by sharing a plastic table, communal condiments, and a bit of conversation.

If spoken language isn’t an issue we’ll often begin by asking questions about local food, which can lead to topics such as family, culture, and politics. If there is no common spoken language, we’ll practice our charade skills to inquire as to which condiments to use or how to properly tackle what we’re eating.

In any event, we find that almost everyone enjoys sharing their local cuisine with visitors.

3. They help you explore your boundaries

I may not be as intrepid or adventurous a street food eater as Dan, but the search for street food definitely helps build my culinary courage. If I can’t easily identify the food in front of me (e.g., it has come from a part of an animal I’m not accustomed to eating), I often shy away. But when I find myself in a street food setting where people are excited for visitors to try their food, it’s difficult for me to say no. I often find that my fears about the food were unfounded, and I enjoy it much to my surprise.

4. They help you exercise your language skills

If you are looking to exercise your linguistic chops, there’s no better place than over a shared meal with random strangers. And if you’re accompanying your meal with a cold beer, language inhibitions seem to fall away even quicker.

5. They teach you how simple it is to cook

Since you are so close to the action, street food lays it all bare. Street food chefs offer the opportunity — language skills permitting — for you to get a firsthand sense of the flow and preparation of your favorite local dishes as you admire the culinary magic up close. After you witness a beautiful dish emerge from a tiny gas stove and a kitchen equipped with only basic tools, you begin to understand the great lessons in limitation.

40 Favorite Street Food Eats from Around the World

The following is only the tip of the street food iceberg of possibilities, in alphabetical order so we don’t get into arguments as to whose is better. We include some traditional dishes as well as a few unusual suspects.

If you’re concerned about eating street food for fear of getting sick, read our tips for eating local and staying healthy: How to Travel Without Hugging the Bowl

Argentina

Although empanadas (stuffed pastries, usually savory) can be found throughout Argentina, the best ones are from the Salta region in the northwestern part of the country. It is also the only region where hot sauce is common. Hurrah!!

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Argentina empanadas in Salta region.
Market empanadas in Tilcara, a village in Argentina’s Salta region.

Armenia

Although kebabs — grilled ground or chunked meat on a skewer — are not unique to Armenia, we did find that when we wanted a quick and easy snack, a kebab wrapped in lavash (flat bread) was the street food of choice.

Armenia street food, kebabs in Yerevan.
Kebabs wrapped in lavash (flat bread) – Yerevan, Armenia.

Bali (Indonesia)

Nasi campur is essentially a Balinese mixed plate served with rice. Most restaurants will make the choice for you, but at warungs, the more local food outlets on Bali, the nasi campur selection is up to you. You can choose from delectables such as sate lilit, spicy tempeh, chopped vegetables, spice-rubbed meat, chicken, and tofu.

Bali street food, Nasi Campur in Sanur
A plate of nasi campur at the night market in Sanur, Bali.

Bangladesh

Singara are spiced potato and vegetable mixture pockets wrapped in a thin dough and fried. What distinguishes a good singara is how flaky the texture is. Some are so flaky, as if they’re made with savory pie crust. Singara are ubiquitous and inexpensive (as cheap as 24 for $1).

Bangladesh street food
Singara at the market in Srimongal, Bangladesh.

Bolivia

Salteñas are empanada-like pockets filled with chicken or meat and finished with a distinctive slightly sweet, baked crust. The salteñas pictured below were filled with both chicken and ground beef, a boiled egg, herbs, and an olive. Spice options include fiery, hot, normal and sweet. Something for everyone.

Bolivian Street Food, Saltenas
Salteñas fresh from the oven in Cochabamba, Bolivia.

Bosnia and Herzegovina

Walk through downtown Sarajevo and it’s hard not to be gripped by the smell of ćevapi, the Bosnian national dish of grilled meat. Ćevapi is often served in installments of five or ten minced meat logs tucked into a round of flat bread. Our preference is with onions and a side of kajmak (thick cream). You won’t need to eat for days after one of these meals.

Bosnian Street Food in Sarajevo
Ćevapi with kajmak and onions at Zeljo Cevabdzinica in Sarajevo.

Cambodia

We found our tuk-tuk driver having breakfast with other drivers when we exited the temples at Banteay Srei near Siem Reap. He invited us to join him and he introduced us to a fantastic morning soup. It consisted of a subtle yellow curry fish broth with fresh rice noodles, paper-thin chopped banana blossom, cucumber, and cabbage — all topped off with a spoonful of dark sweet sauce. A bowl of bitter herbs and long beans circulated our table for the final touch.

Cambodian street food, morning soup at Angkor Temples.
Cambodian Morning Soup (Num Banh Choc), breakfast at the Angkor temples.

Chile

When we arrived in Chile, we were on a mission to eat a proper completo (hot dog). Although we usually practice hot dog avoidance, these beauties were hard to resist. The one pictured here merges avocado, tomato and mayonnaise in the flag-like completo italiano.

Chilean street food, a completo italiano in Santiago.
The completo italiano in all its glory. La Vega market in Santiago, Chile.

China

Selecting just one street food dish from China borders on the impossible, but we’ll go with the crowd favorite Chinese dumplings. Of the hundreds of dumplings we sampled in China these pork, shrimp and leek dumplings at Da Yu dumpling joint near the No. 6 bathing area in Qingdao stick out. Fresh, delicious and perfectly steamed.

Chinese Dumplings in Qingdao, China
Pork, shrimp and leek dumplings at Da Yu — Qingdao, China.

Ecuador

It seems like each country in Latin America serves its own unique style of ceviche, so we found it necessary to try it in each country we visited. While we have to admit that Peruvian ceviche is our favorite (see below), this bowl of shrimp ceviche with from the Central Market in Quito ran a close second with its fresh shrimp, plentiful herbs, and bits of tomato. Oh, and we were big fans of the popcorn as a side.

Ecuador Ceviche
Ecuadorian style shrimp ceviche served with a side of popcorn at Quito Central Market.

Egypt

The first time we visited Cairo was in December 2011 when demonstrations were still taking place on Tahrir Square and news channels around the world were lit up with scenes of violence and protest. But our experience in the almost 8-million person city was filled with encounters like this one, with a friendly sugar cane juice master of Old Cairo. And in case you’re wondering, we did not get sick.

Cairo sugar cane juice.
The sugar cane juice master of Old Cairo, Egypt.

El Salvador

Pupusas (stuffed corn tortillas) are the go-to street food of choice throughout El Salvador. Filled with refried red beans, cheese and a dash of chicharron (salty pork rinds), the pupusas below from a simple street stand east of central park in Juayua were the best we had eaten anywhere. Top with pickled vegetables and chili peppers. Delicious!

El Salvador Street Food
Pupusas on the griddle — Juayua, El Salvador.

Ethiopia

A traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony will likely take at least twenty minutes from start to finish for the first cup of coffee, but it is absolutely well worth the wait. You need to sample a few, and perhaps only then will you begin to fully comprehend how important coffee is to Ethiopia, the purported birthplace of the stuff.

Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
Ethiopian coffee ceremony, complete with frankincense, in Aksum, Ethiopia.

Georgia (Republic of)

Khachapuri, the ubiquitous signature Georgian cheese-stuffed bread oozes gooey goodness. A common site on the Georgian table — at breakfast, lunch or dinner. Because the cheese inside is mildly brined, it’s salty goodness is like a diet-demolishing siren call.

Georgian street food
Cheese-stuffed khachapuri. Comfort food at its best.

Germany (Berlin)

Everyone knows about döner kebabs in Berlin. But Mustafa’s is not your typical döner. Rather than flakes of beef or veal, shavings of chicken pressed with roasted vegetables fall from Mustafa’s spindle and are served with a fabulous mélange of potatoes, sweet potatoes, salad, cheese and mystery sauce. If you are vegetarian, you can also opt for pure veg. You’ll know you’ve arrived at Mustafa’s when you see the long line snaking down the street.

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Berlin street food, gemuse doner at Mustafa's in Kreuzberg.
Audrey doesn’t waste any time diving in.

Greece (Crete)

On the Greek island of Crete, it sometimes seemed as though all we did was eat. In the island’s main city of Heraklion, just prior to our departure, we were recommended to try bugatsa, a pastry filled with cream and/or cheese, and sprinkled with powdered sugar. The most famous bugatsa is served at Kipkop, a bakery founded in 1922 by Armenian immigrants whose descendants dish the same original recipe to this day.

Crete Street Food, Bougatsa
Cheese and cream-filled bugatsa at Kipkop in Heraklion, Crete.

Guatemala

Guatemala served as our first stop in Central America. We took to street food in Antigua almost straight away. This, a chuchito (similar to a Mexican tamale – shredded meat and vegetables stuffed in a mass of boiled, ground corn), was smothered in fresh guacamole, salsa and cabbage.

Guatemala Street Food, Chuchito in Antigua
A street-side chuchito for lunch in Antigua, Guatemala.

Haiti

Lots of street food in Haiti is fried — plantains, pork, other meat bits, potatoes, etc. But if you’re looking for a hearty meal for just a couple dollars, this dish of cornmeal, beans and vegetable stew (mayi moulen kole ak legim) is where it’s at. The cornmeal consistency is somewhere between polenta and cream-of-wheat (or cream-of-cornmeal, as it were).

Haiti street food in Jacmel.
Morning stop for cornmeal, beans and vegetable stew in Jacmel, Haiti.

Honduras

While the rest of Central America is all about the corn, Honduras’ staple street food dish — the baleada — is made with wheat flour. And honestly, this was a relief after three months of maize. Stuffed with combinations of cheese, beans, eggs, and various meats, baleadas quickly became our Honduran comfort food.

Honduras Street Food, Baleadas in La Esperanza
Breakfast of champions: bean stuffed pupusa and bean and egg baleadas (right) in La Esperanza, Honduras.

Hungary

How can anyone resist fried bread smothered in sour cream? That is why the Hungarian langos is an easy favorite. Make your way into just about any market in Hungary and you are sure to find langos, if the signature aroma of it doesn’t find you first. Try garlic langos and you’ll be vampire-free — and probably friendless for a few hours.

Hungarian Street Food, Langos in Budapest
Our favorite fried bread from the Langos Centrum at Lehel market in Budapest.

India

There is so much street food goodness in India, but we’ll have to go with this aloo tikki (spiced potato snacks) stand in Varanasi as one of our favorites. The aloo tikki was good, but the charismatic vendor who roped me in to cook for him is what made the experience. Note: if you do venture to eat street food in India, stick to the cooked products and be wary of fresh herb and vegetable toppings that may have been washed in unclean water.

Indian Street Food in Varanasi
I learn to cook aloo tikki on the ghats of Varanasi.

Iran

After all the kebabs and meats in Iran, we were thankful to find this vendor selling a big pile of steamed, spiced fava beans in the mountains near Kermanshah. Delicious with a dash of vinegar and red pepper. I think he found our vegetable-deprived group a bit odd as we kept coming back for additional servings.

Iran street food
Large piles of steamed, spiced fava beans in the mountains near Kermanshah.

Japan

Octopus balls? Yes, please. Takoyaki are fluffy hot rounds of chopped octopus in herbed dough. All part of the experience: watching the masters quickly turn their takoyaki with long toothpicks in something that looks like a cupcake pan, so that the balls cook evenly on all sides. Takoyaki is often topped with a sweet sauce, aonori (powdered seaweed), and ample helpings of hanakatsuo (dried bonito fish flakes).

Takoyaki on the streets of Osaka.

JordanStreet food doesn’t always have to be savory. Knafeh is a decadent Middle Eastern dessert made from a gooey, white cheese base with semolina bits baked on top and covered in sweet syrup. Though we take every opportunity we get to eat the stuff, we have yet to find a knafeh better than what is served up at Habibeh (Habiba) in downtown Amman, Jordan. Every person we’ve spoken to who has visited Amman mentions this knafeh with a longing sigh.

Jordan Street Food, Kanefeh in Amman
Whopping trays of knafeh at Habibeh in downtown Amman, Jordan.

Kyrgyzstan

Steamed manti, meat-filled dumplings. This is a staple of street food stalls, fresh markets and hillside animal markets across Kyrgyzstan. Be careful though, the Kyrgyz can be quite, um, efficient in their manti production. Sometimes, it tastes like the whole animal might have fallen into the meat grinder.

Kyrgyzstan Street Food, Steamed Manti in Osh Bazaar
Steamed manti at the fresh market in Osh.

Laos

It’s possible to visit Luang Prabang and be tricked into thinking you’re eating Lao food, as many restaurants pimp Thai curries as Lao food. After asking around we finally found Or Lam, a spicy stew with mushrooms, eggplant, meat, lemongrass and chillies. In the back is khai paen (spiced, dried river weed) and jaew bawng (a Lao dipping sauce). All of this goes perfectly with a cold Beer Lao.

Laos Street Food in Luang Prabang
Or lam and munchies at the Luang Prabang market.

Malaysia

It’s worth traveling to Malaysia, if only for the cuisine. Malaysian street food is a delightful melange, drawing influence from China and from across Southeast Asia. And that doesn’t even touch the country’s Indian food scene. Many street food stands specialize in just one dish, and it’s not uncommon to find that multiple generations have worked together to perfect their recipe.

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Malaysian Street Food in Penang
Sambal Sotong – squid and stink beans (petai) in roasted chili, served on a banana leaf. Georgetown, Penang.

Mexico (Oaxaca)

When we decided where to spend two months in Mexico, we choose Oaxaca primarily because of its cuisine and street food scene. One of our favorite street food or market snacks was the tlayuda, a large semi-dried tortilla, sometimes glazed with a thin layer of unrefined pork lard called asiento, and topped with refried beans (frijol), tomatoes, avocadoes, and some variation of meat (chorizo, tasajo or cencilla, or shredded chicken tinga). It can either be served open, or when it’s cooked on a charcoal grill, folded in half. One is often enough to feed two people.

Oaxaca Street Food
Tlayuda chorizo at the 20 de Noviembre market in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Myanmar (Burma)

Geographically, Myanmar sits at the intersection of South Asian (Indian), East Asian (Chinese), and Southeast Asian (Thai). Culinarily, it does too. This was a pleasant surprise for us and Burmese food exceeded our expectations.

Burma Street Food, Spicy Noodles in Yangon
Noodles doused in spicy sauce, fresh herbs, and crushed nuts. Taken on the streets of Yangon.

Nepal

It’s hard for me to resist dumplings anywhere, and Nepal’s momos were no exception. Served steamed or occasionally fried, momos are a staple in and around the areas of the Tibetan plateau, including all over Nepal.

Nepal Street Food, Momos
Steamed momos on the streets of Bhaktapur.

Paraguay

When it’s brutally hot and humid and you’re waiting hours for the bus, a shot of tereré, the national drink (nay, the national sport) of Paraguay, definitely helps. Tereré looks like yerba mate, but it is served cold and can be enjoyed for hours.

Refreshing Tereré in Paraguay
Cooling off with tereré at the Encarnacion bus station in Paraguay.

Peru

Peru was the culinary highlight of our travels through Latin America. The cevicheria at the Surquillo market in Lima bustles with people, especially on the weekend. A huge plate of mixed seafood ceviche runs about $4-$5. Discussions about Peruvian family life and politics are free of charge.

Peruvian Ceviche in Lima
Mixed seafood ceviche — Surquillo Market in Lima, Peru.

Singapore

Hainanese chicken rice is a culinary specialty unique to Singapore. The description may sound unremarkable, but its flavor delights. The dish consists of chicken broth, slices of roasted (or steamed) chicken served with cucumbers and herbs, hot sauce, sweet soy sauce, and a light chicken stock soup with vegetables. Delicious in its subtlety.

Singapore Street Food, Hainanese Chicken
Hainanese Chicken Rice at the hawker center between Waterloo Street and Bugis Street, Singapore.

South Africa

Bunny chow is essentially a hollowed out piece of plain, white sandwich bread stuffed with curry (or masala, if you like). Rumors have it that it was designed this way to make it easy for plantation workers to take their lunch to the fields. Bunny chow serves as culinary evidence of South Asian influence in South Africa, and more specifically in the city of Durban.

South Africa Street Food, Bunny Chow in Durban
5-Layer Bunny Chow in Durban, South Africa

Thailand

Thailand is where our love affair with street food really took off. Thailand is one of those places worth visiting, if only for the street food. So while we know that Thai street food goes well beyond curries, a beautiful plate of shrimp red curry covered with fresh Thai basil was the dish got it started all those years ago on our first visit to Bangkok.

Thai Street Food, Red Curry in Bangkok
Shrimp red curry on the streets of Bangkok for around $1.

Turkey

There’s a lot of bad and soggy borek (stuffed thin pastry) in the world. During our visit to Istanbul en route to Iran, we became regulars for this man’s crispy cheese-stuffed borek. Convenient, too, as his shop was right across the street from our flat in Beyoğlu.

Istanbul Street Food, Borek
The borek man of Beyoğlu, Istanbul.

Uganda

If you ever find yourself hungry in Kampala, head to the Mengo Market for some kikomandoKikomando is a filling dish made of beans mixed with slices of chapati. It is said that if you eat a lot of it you will be strong like Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Commando. Not sure about that, but a plate of it will stuff you for the rest of the day.

Uganda Street Food
Hearty plate of kikomando at Mengo Market in Kampala, Uganda.

Uzbekistan

Plov is the Uzbek national dish. Think rice pilaf with fried julienned carrots, red pepper, caraway seeds, and chunks of meat. Plov is so ubiquitous throughout the region that self-described local connoisseurs can discern differences that are imperceptible to foreigners, much like the relationship Americans have with pizza and chili. We’ll keep our radar tuned for the first Central Asian plov cook-off.

Uzbekistan Street Food, Plov
Street-side plov in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

Vietnam

Vietnam is another incredible destination for street food lovers. During our winter visit we tried cha ca which is a distinct hot pot meal of fish, turmeric, dill, coriander and other greens served with noodles, peanuts, vinegar and chilies. As with many meals in Vietnam, you’ll be served piles of greens, noodles, spices, and other tasty bits to tune your dish to the precise flavor profile you seek.

Hanoi Street Food, Fish with Turmeric
Cha Ca, fish and turmeric hot pot, in Hanoi.

Xinjiang (China)

We place Xinjiang street food in its own category as the region is a distinct ethnic blend of Turkic and Mongolian. So although Xinjiang cuisine shows some hints of what one might call “traditional” Chinese influence, its dishes are often quite different from mainstream Chinese food. One of our favorites was pulled noodles, or laghman, which we enjoyed not only for the taste, but also for the flair of its preparation. Pulled noodles are tossed, beaten and pulled to ensure the right consistency before being dunked in soups and suoman, a blend of noodles, vegetables and meat.

Xinjiang Street Food, Laghman Hand-Pulled Noodles
Laghman noodle master at the animal market in Kashgar, Xinjiang (China)

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