Eight Best Cities for Street Food

Lists: Terry Ward lifts the lid on a few of the world's tastiest places to eat the people's cuisine

12.15.08 | 12:16 AM ET


From banana leaves stuffed with sticky rice sold for a few baht on a Thai train to roasted chestnuts proffered in paper cones come winter in Zurich, street food—the cuisine of the people—is found in practically every country. Not all roadside culinary traditions are created equal, however. Forget all fears of Montezuma’s revenge and follow World Hum’s lead to eight of the world’s most delicious street food destinations.

Marrakech, Morocco

Every evening, 365 days a year, the Djemma al Fna, Marrakech’s main square, morphs into a street food Mecca. Hundreds of stalls strung with blinding bulbs host Moroccan and foreign tourists in near equal measure. Locals prefer to eat in their homes, where food is always prepared by women. But on the street, it’s men who do the cooking. The overall experience is far from calm—vendors go as far as tugging on your shirtsleeves or flirting with your girlfriend to entice takers. Any table you choose is guaranteed to be the best seat in the house. Dishes such as sheep’s head and couscous are prepped with a good dose of theater.  Also look for bubbling cauldrons of herb-infused escargot and follow the lead of Moroccans by plucking the snails from their shells using safety pins. For tamer tastes, there are brochettes (kabobs of minced beef) and chicken tagine.

World Hum’s Pick: Cheap and filling, harira soup is a traditional Moroccan broth of chickpeas, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and turmeric (about a dollar a bowl). At the Djemma al Fna, it’s eaten with a scooped spoon made of citron wood. Get upsold (just a few cents) on the honeyed tangles of sweet dough called shbekkia, a popular harira accompaniment. 

Palermo, Sicily

Spilling from narrow alleys and ancient squares, the markets in Palermo still have a Moorish allure (the Arabs once traded here). Vendors shout their prices while boiling fresh artichokes and hawking chickpea fritters called panelle. There’s caponata—a Sicilian eggplant dish made with capers that’s similar to ratatouille, cannolis, and baked riced balls called arancini, too. More adventurous eaters can opt for pani ca meusa—a sandwich made from simmered beef spleen and perhaps a bit of lung.

World Hum’s Pick: One of the most delicious snacks, if you’re feeling bold, is fresh octopus. “It’s cooked on the spot,” said Agnes Weber of Lyon, France. “They fetch it out of a big pan full of boiling water, cut a piece for you on a small plastic plate, put a bit of lemon on it all, and you eat it there, in the street—I just love it!”

Stone Town, Zanzibar

Come sunset in Stone Town, Forodhani Gardens on the waterfront turns into a spectacle of brazier-bound seafood, salivating tourists and feral cats foraging for leftovers. “It’s a total seafood orgy—I’ve never seen so many fish and crustaceans getting chopped and skewered,” said Christopher Vourlias, a World Hum contributor who puts Forodhani on his shortlist of all-time best street eats. Think lobster, crab claws, shrimp, barracuda, octopus and skewers of flopping fresh fish. Due to its popularity with tourists, seafood here is pricey by local standards. Expect to pay about $4 for lobster and one or two bucks for a skewer of snapper. You’ll save cash by feasting like the locals do, opting for goat meat skewers, grilled cassava, spiced naan bread and samosas.

World Hum’s Pick: We’ll take $4 lobster any day. But for a tasty landlubber treat, try the Zanzibari pizzas—chopped meat and spices between thin layers of dough. Wash it all down with freshly pressed sugar cane juice.

Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City’s street food is deliciously diverse, from tubes of fried dough powdered with cinnamon called churros to roasted corn to carnitas and freshly squeezed fruit juices. But perhaps the best dish in the capital is the ubiquitous tacos al pastor, found on nearly every street corner. Hunks of marinated pork topped with pineapple are cooked gyro-style on a spit until tender. Then chunks are sliced off and served atop two-bite corn tortillas. Cilantro, chopped onion and a squeeze of lime make a perfect garnish. 

World Hum’s Pick: Elote—roasted corn on the cob. It’s shucked in front of you, pierced with a wooden stick and slathered with tangy mayonnaise—the base for a topping of chili flakes, powdery cotija cheese and the obligatory squeeze of lime. ¡Que rico!

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Terry Ward

Terry Ward is a Florida-based writer and a long-time contributor to World Hum.

23 Comments for Eight Best Cities for Street Food

Austin 12.15.08 | 3:27 AM ET

This is a great list, anywhere there is good street food is a good place to visit. I can attest to the great street food in Berlin, any wurst-ish food is a guaranteed hit.  Be sure to try them at the weekend markets, that’s where I found the best ones.

Jack from eyeflare travel tips 12.15.08 | 6:24 AM ET

I absolutely agree about the street food in Mexico City and Istanbul. I’d actually like to add another one, which is Los Angeles. There are burrito stands in a lot of neighborhoods that are stunningly good on average and well worth a meal.

Jerry Haines 12.15.08 | 7:09 AM ET

Terrific piece.  Certainly agree as to Istanbul and Mexico City.  I’d add Thai street food, particularly in Chiang Mai.  Toward sunset vendors roll portable grills and mobile woks into public spaces, and a square that was just a nondescript patch of concrete in daylight becomes a tempting buffet of seafood, deep fried vegetables of various descriptions and Thai donuts.  When my wife and I spent a week in the city, we’d start off in the evening with the intention of going to some upscale place with an appealing review in Lonely Planet, but then we’d encounter one of these street food bazaars.  And that was the end of the story.  We often filled ourselves gloriously for less than five bucks.  Some people debate the safety of street food, but you can see your meal cooked right in front of you.  Who knows WHAT goes on back in the hidden kitchens of restaurants?

Serendipity Traveler 12.15.08 | 1:57 PM ET

Praises for street food around the world, traveling as a traveler not tourist! Find the longer lines
and get in to savor some of the simplest and best cooking traveling authentically. Same is true
for the sit down meals, look for the local less fancy spots for excellent food.

Kevpod 12.15.08 | 4:05 PM ET

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has fantastic and inexpensive food at its night markets.

pratyk 12.15.08 | 5:18 PM ET

singapore and mumbai should be on the list ..

badfrog 12.15.08 | 5:34 PM ET

My family has lived in Mexico off and on since the early 1970’s, and visited often.  Everywhere they have marvelous street food, Taco’s al carbon in Sonora, al machaca in Sinaloa, al Cabeza de cabrito (goat’s head) in Chihuahua, dried, fried bananas in Michuocan, Agave “wine” in Guadalahara, Chiles Relleno in Laredo, chiles queso in Tabasco, the roast pork in Yucatan, and good beer and brandy everywhere, and soda pop with real cane sugar, not corn syrup.

And yes, I am spending Christmas with my family in Sonora.  Leaving Thursday morning.

Yes, bragging.  Sorry, I’m excited.  Andale andale!

gan 12.15.08 | 5:56 PM ET

how about a major city in china? everything from lamb skewers up north in beijing to dim sum down south in hong kong and amazing dumblings in shanghai. I mean how can someone pass up singapore and a major city in china over for some little island in korea?

Ben 12.15.08 | 7:08 PM ET

Great list Terry ! Some of the tastiest—and strangest—street food I’ve tried was at a night market in Taipei. They don’t call it stink tofu for nothing…

JO 12.15.08 | 10:04 PM ET

Taiwan, a little tiny island where great tasting street foods can be found anywhere and anytime (not just in night markets) you go, should have been on the top of the list….

John M. Edwards 12.15.08 | 11:15 PM ET

Hi Terry:

I love street food, as long as it doesn’t include getting sick.

One of my best roadside acquisitions was on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, which Mark Twain compared to Eden, when I saw a “Snacky Cart”!

The roti I bought from the enthused vendor, smiling like a Blue Meanie, was of unusual quality and savoriness.

However later that evening I was bent double over the bowl, wretched with retching. I must admit, though, I think it was all the drinks I’d consumed rather than the roti. Still, when I saw Mr. Snacky the next day, I did say hello but gave his mobile foodstall a miss. Just in case.

John M. Edwards

Zach 12.16.08 | 1:13 AM ET

Istanbul is great. And while Boston doesn’t deserve to be on this list, there’s a lot to be said for a late-night Italian sausage from a street vendor.

Emma 12.16.08 | 1:54 AM ET

Hong Kong gets a vote from me. Incredible food at stalls across the city. Berlin is great too - especially good are the stands in the depths of the city’s forests, so you can get a currywurst hit when you need it most.

Rob O. 12.16.08 | 10:46 AM ET

I wouldn’t say it’s the best for street food, but if ever in Moscow, you must try a Stardog.  The Cyrillic logo makes it look like “crapdog” and sure enough, that’s what everyone lovingly calls ‘em.

Audrey 12.16.08 | 5:49 PM ET

Street food is one of the best parts of travel. And, it’s a great way to connect and engage with locals; people love talking about their local specialties!

I’d also add a few destinations, maybe for list #2: Night market in Kashgar, China (hand-made laghman noodles, chickpea salad and dumplings were our favorites), anywhere in Malaysia (laksa, satay, noodles), Rangoon (Yangon) in Burma (everything from crushed samosa soup to spicy noodles), Bangkok (pad thai, curries, fruit shakes, roti, etc. - so delicious and cheap).

OK, now I’m really hungry!!

Ellen 12.17.08 | 7:32 AM ET

Check out London, Brick Lane on a Sunday afternoon. The market is fantastic for finding good cheap food from all over the world. My favourte is a lady who is selling traditional dishes from Ethiopia.

a nayar 12.21.08 | 1:14 AM ET

I too think Mumbai, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur should be on this list ..  their street foods are delicious and inexpensive

Lola Akinmade 12.22.08 | 9:33 PM ET

Haaa. Food. My language!

jim johnston 01.17.09 | 10:16 AM ET

Thanks for including my home town of Mexico City—you’re absolutely right.
Here’s my personal vote for the best taco in Mexico City—
Saludos, Jim Johnston

Nicholas Gilman 01.17.09 | 11:18 AM ET

Well done - I also would have included Bangkok, but who’s arguing!. See my book for more tips on Mexico City street food…..

Salim Arkadan 01.20.09 | 7:26 PM ET

I fell in love with Morocco, so much that I decided to move here two years ago. I’m glad I did, I’d hate to be in the UK now with all this bad weather and a recession.

In Morocco no matter what the weather the sun always manages to come out, even for a few seconds to say “Marhaba”!

I work in holiday rentals. This is my website:

Marrakech Holiday Rentals

Wishing you all the best.


indoor antenna 01.20.09 | 11:01 PM ET

Why cant St. Louis be known for street food! I hate that…I work downtown and there is only one street vendor and I pass it everyday. I tried them one time and will never try again. So I either stand in line at a cheesy old coffee shop or pack a sack.

Tom 01.21.09 | 6:49 AM ET

I always wanted to visit Mexico, I heard that they have great food there and I love the beans. heh. Currently I am living in Brussel and man they have great food here. They are selling waffles and they taste great.


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