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


Istanbul, Turkey

Pushcarts laden with inexpensive eats are practically as prevalent as people in Istanbul, where you can find sustenance for every meal without ever entering a restaurant. For breakfast, take your Turkish coffee or tea with simit—a donut-shaped piece of bread covered with sesame seeds that’s lovely with jam or cheese. Kofte—skewers of minced meat shaped into sausage-like forms that are grilled and stuffed into bread—make a good lunch. And you can puzzle-piece together dinner by hitting vendors selling corn on the cob (grilled or boiled), lahmajun (grilled flat bread topped with a thin layer of meat, tomatoes, onions, peppers and parsley) and midye dolma (mussels stuffed with rice, pine nuts, raisins and fresh herbs).

World Hum’s Pick: Look for the thin cigar-shaped savory pastries appropriately called sigara borek—stuffed with parsley-infused feta and fried to golden perfection. They should come with a warning that they’re habit-forming.

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City’s street food offerings are staggering. Hit a street stall and pull up one of the mini plastic chairs alongside the locals to feast on Vietnam’s breakfast of champions—Pho. The noodle soup originally hails from Hanoi but is a breakfast and lunchtime staple across Vietnam. Streetside snacks include dried squid strung like flapping laundry outside shops and tiny shrimp stir fried with their shells on—both go down well with a Tiger beer, typically served over ice. For dessert, there’s che—soupy sweet bean and coconut desserts proffered in plastic to-go bags. 

World Hum’s Pick: Nothing hits the spot on a hot Mekong Delta day like sweet, syrupy Vietnamese iced café. Called ca phe sua da, it’s a mix of near equal parts thick black coffee and condensed milk. You’ll see it prepared everywhere, from a street stall to atop a burner on the curb. The concoction is poured into a plastic bag and topped with a rubber band and a straw for an on-the-go jolt like no other.

Berlin, Germany

Germany’s street food offerings go beyond those ubiquitous grilled bratwursts poking from both ends of their too-tiny buns. And the capital city—with the largest Turkish population outside of Turkey—is the best place to sample the wealth. Döner kabobs at take-out restaurants are found on nearly very corner in Berlin, particularly in the Kreuzberg quarter, where they’re at their cheapest. Look for street carts selling rösti—plate-sized portions of fried hashed browns, slathered with applesauce or garlic quark, similar to sour cream. And popular festival fare includes schweinhaxe (pork knuckle) served with sauerkraut, French-style crepes and whole mushrooms sautéed in garlic and butter. For an interesting twist on gluhwein, hit Berlin’s myriad Christmas markets, held throughout December, to try Feuerzangenbowle (‘fire pliers punch’). The alcoholic beverage is prepared using red wine, orange juice and spices, poured into a large metal bowl and hung over an open fire. Pliers hold a rum-soaked cone of sugar over the mixture. The sugar is then set alight and continually poured with rum until it melts into the bowl.

World Hum’s Pick: Currywurst—slices of pork sausage topped with Germany’s favorite condiment, curry sauce (a blend of tomato sauce, ketchup and curry powder)—are eaten off paper plates with tiny forks.

Cheju Island, Korea

Korea’s largest island, roughly 56 miles off the country’s southern coast and stretching for 44 miles, is known for its fabulous seafood caught and proffered by a tradition of female divers that evolved due to historical taxation on male labor. With little more than a knife and the strength of their lungs (tanks are not used), the women wait until the tide is auspicious then plunder the sea bottom for abalone, octopus, urchins, shellfish and seaweed. At beaches across the island, they emerge from the ocean in wetsuits, bearing full nets, and grill their catches on the beach for tourists and locals. Hit the boardwalk in Cheju City, too, where hwae (raw fish) is served alongside the usual Korean street food, including dumplings, caramel candies and skewered meats. 

World Hum’s Pick: Wherever you are in Korea, you’ll find tteokbokki—once a staple of the royal court, the starchy dish is now the country’s most popular and ubiquitous street snack.  The classic version is rice cakes stir-fried with sticky red pepper paste. Variations include fish cakes, fritters, dumplings and boiled eggs in the same spicy sauce.

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

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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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