10 great cities around the world for street food
Eating street food can be one of the best ways to soak up a destination's local culture. We dare you to try to resist the smell of porchetta sandwiches in Florence, Italy, or the scent of freshly cracked durian on nearly every corner in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Not only is street food delicious, but it's also a very affordable and exciting way to eat while traveling.
Some other honorable mentions for can't-miss dishes include tofu at the night markets in Taipei, Taiwan; 911 chicken on a stick in Seoul, South Korea; baby octopus and quail egg on a stick in Kyoto, Japan; and micheladas in Cartagena, Colombia.
Though it's not a comprehensive list, you certainly won’t be disappointed with the street food in any of the following cities.
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Taipei is at the top of this list for good reason. There’s no place in the world that compares to the cuisine found in the night markets of Taipei. The stalls serving stinky tofu, beef skewers, radish cakes, scallion pancakes, fried oysters and more provide the ultimate sense of umami.
If night markets aren’t your thing (though in Taiwan, they should be), the youthful neighborhood of Ximending has several carts and vendors open during daylight hours that serve up Taiwanese fried chicken, pineapple cake, beef noodle soup and grilled lobster tails. If you plan to go to Taiwan, keep an open mind when trying new dishes, and if a local recommends something, try it. You likely won’t be disappointed.
Dishes to try: Stinky tofu, radish cake, pork pepper bun, soy milk and youtiao.
Cartagena has some of the best food in Latin America and its street food game is no exception.
Throughout the city, there is a multitude of carts serving cups of ceviche with cocktail sauce, arepa de huevo (fatty arepas stuffed with eggs and beef), fresh fruit juices, patacon con todo (plantain topped with meat and cheese) and even spicy micheladas. Inside the old walls of Cartagena, grab a late-night arepa de huevo and michelada while watching local dancers and performers for the ultimate experience.
Dishes to try: Arepa de huevo, patacon con todo, michelada and ceviche.
One might not think of street food when visiting Italy, but Florence has a lot of options for on-the-go dining thanks to its many “chioschi," or roadside kiosks. An obvious option is gelato, and rumor has it that this Italian sweet treat originated in Florence.
One of the best foods found in the city comes from a tiny sandwich shop called All’Antico Vinaio. It serves up meaty sandwiches, one with porchetta, homemade onion and potato creams, and another with mortadella and pistachio cream. A common dish found in Florence is lampredotto, a sandwich stuffed with trippa — or the lining of a cow’s stomach — and topped with a salsa verde. L’antico Trippaio, close to Ponte Vecchio, makes one of the best lampredotto sandwiches in the city.
Dishes to try: Porchetta sandwich, gelato, lampredotto.
Though Tokyo often is ranked in the highest spot for the best street food in Japan, Kyoto certainly gives the capital city a run for its money. Some of the best cuisine in the city can be found at Nishiki Market, commonly known as “Kyoto’s kitchen,” a 400-year old bustling market with over 100 shops and vendors.
Here, you can try takoyaki, a famous Japanese snack of pancake-like batter and chopped octopus topped with bonito flakes and spicy mayo. The baby octopus stuffed with quail egg and the wagyu beef skewers are also worth a try, as are the desserts such as mochi and namagashi. Nishiki Market also sells fresh fish and oysters if you want to take something home to cook.
Dishes to try: Takoyaki, baby octopus stuffed with quail egg, wagyu skewers and namagashi.
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
A long time ago, I read about a fruit that was banned on public transportation in various places around the world due to its pungent smell. Some described it as rotten onions, some described it as stinky gym socks, but the real mystery remained in that, despite its horrid odor, it apparently tasted sweet and had a cheesecake-like texture. This fruit is called durian, and I knew I needed to try it for myself. If you’re as curious as I once was, Kuala Lumpur is the best place to sample it. Durian options literally line the streets of Kuala Lumpur, with some shops devoted specifically to it, selling items from durian gum to dried durian to just plain durian itself.
If stinky fruit isn’t your thing, how about some noodles? Chili pan mee is a spicy noodle dish served with potato leaves, ground pork, fried salty fish, and most importantly, chili. You can find it in many different carts throughout the city. If you’re near the Batu Caves, don’t head back into the city without trying some masala dosas. The ones I ate there were so good that they inspired me to book a trip to India.
Dishes to try: Chili pan mee, durian and masala dosas.
Jaipur, India’s pink city, is not only a feast for the eyes but also for the palate. Getting street food here is almost unavoidable. All over the city, you’ll find vendors serving up everything from masala chai to ice cream. The smells of cardamom and cloves will inevitably lure you into ordering something from a street cart. Near Panna Meena Ka Kund, there’s a samosa stand where you can get a piping hot fried pastry for around 30 cents.
If you want a one-stop-shop, head to Masala Chowk — an open-air food court that brings all the best Jaipur street food to one location. There are 21 booths in the food court, each showcasing a different dish, and the prices can’t be beaten. While there, go for some panipuri, a popular Indian street snack of deep-fried, hollowed-out balls filled with either potatoes, chickpeas or veggies; it's served with tamarind water known as imli pani. The stall at Masala Chowk serving pav bhaji, a thick vegetable curry served with soft buttery bread, is also a hit. If you’re heading out of Jaipur by bus, there's a stall right near the main bus station serving Kathi rolls — which are great sandwiches to take on the road.
Dishes to try: Panipuri, pav bhaji, masala chai and Kathi rolls.
Seoul, South Korea
As an avid solo traveler, one of the main questions I get asked is, “Do you ever get lonely?” Truthfully, I seldom feel lonely, but there was one place in which I felt completely isolated: South Korea (particularly when dining out). I constantly thought I was getting scammed, because restaurant portions were so large and expensive, until I finally realized everything in South Korea is served family-style.
I finally gave up on restaurants and decided to start getting food off the street. I am thankful for my loneliness because, without it, I might have never discovered the beauty that is Korean street food. Some of the most memorable dishes I consumed were Korean fried chicken topped with cheese, bibimbap at Gyeongdong market, and “911” chicken in Hongdae. Street food here is not limited to Korean cuisine. I ate a waffle filled with Nutella and strawberries, a bacon egg and cheese “cupcake” and even a carton of cheese fries.
Dishes to try: 911 chicken, bibimbap, fried chicken and waffles.
On almost every corner in Kraków, there are little blue stands serving up braided circular bread called obwarzanek. If a bagel and a pretzel had a baby, it would be obwarzanek. They’re a Polish breakfast staple but can be found throughout the city of Kraków well into the late afternoon.
Aside from obwarzanek, Kraków has a booming street food scene, from Kraków Street Food Market to weekend markets to various food trucks all over the city. One of the most popular Polish street foods is Zaipeikanka, Poland's version of pizza. It’s an open-faced sandwich topped with cheese, mushrooms, and sometimes meat. Oscypek is a seasonal smoked cheese that can only be found from May to September, originating in the Tatra Podhale region of Poland. It's served either as is or with tart fruit similar to cranberries.
Dishes to try: Obwarzanek, zapiekanka, oscypek and kielbasa.
New York City
It’s no secret that New York City has some of the best food in the world. What’s less well known is New Yorkers and travelers alike can quickly transport themselves to Ecuador, Bangladesh, Nepal, Colombia and Mexico by jumping on the 7 train and heading to Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, Queens. Roosevelt Avenue is street food heaven. It’s lined with food carts serving arepas, elote, Ecuadorian breakfast, momos (Nepalese dumplings), birria tacos and even freshly cracked coconuts for staying hydrated on hotter summer days.
Anthony Bourdain even featured this particular area on his Queens episode of Parts Unknown. Some of the most popular food trucks here include Arepa Lady, Birria-Landia, Mom’s Momo and Mini Picanteria El Guaquileno. No matter where you decide to grab a bite in Jackson Heights, you won’t be disappointed.
Dishes to try: Ecuadorian breakfast, tacos, pupusas and momos.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Thailand is a foodie’s haven, and although the night markets of Bangkok are a popular attraction, some of the country’s best food can be found in the northern city of Chiang Mai. The Chiang Mai Night Bazaar is a requirement for every traveler. It is filled with muay thai boxing matches, clothing shops with cheap prices, and most importantly, delicious food.
Go for some sai oua, a regional pork sausage flavored with lime leaves, herbs and spices. One of the best dishes to eat (not only in Chiang Mai, but anywhere in Thailand) is Khao Soi, a curry noodle soup with a thick, spicy coconut milk broth. If you need a cure after a long night of drinking, or want to eat breakfast like a true local, head to Joke Suan Dok Gate, a spot that opens at 6 a.m. and often sells out by 11 a.m. It serves Tom Luad Moo, or pig blood soup made with — you guessed it — pig’s blood, along with pig kidneys, intestines, blood jelly, and some soy sauce and greens.
Dishes to try: Khao soi, sai oua, laab khua and tom luad moo.