Why you should care
Because some of the tastiest nosh is found down back roads and alleys.
The tastiest food doesn’t always come out of a fancy kitchen, crafted by the hands of a celebrated chef. In many cases, you’ll find the yummiest eats on the street — hawked by a vendor in a market, served up from the steamy interior of a food truck or ladled out from a stand on the side of the road. From spicy noodles to grilled chicken, sweet pancakes to pit BBQ, here are six mouthwatering street food offerings.
Start with hot chips (you can’t go wrong there), then slather them with salt and vinegar, wrap in thick white paper and wait for the condensation to work its magic. The result: a parcel of slaptjips — Afrikaans for “limp fries.” Slaptjips are so good they don’t even need ketchup to be enjoyed, and they also feature in some of the country’s other classic dishes, like the chip roll — a soft white bap (small roll) dwarfed beneath a mountain of slaptjips. A vinegary, salty french fry sandwich? Yes, please.
In Thailand, locals can’t get enough gai yang (grilled chicken). One enterprising roadside chef grills his chicken in perhaps the most extraordinary way possible: with a giant, adjustable curved wall of polished mirrors and the sun. The chicken is succulent, softer and doesn’t come with the usual blackened skin, and the flavors of fragrant lemongrass, garlic and sweet marinade are far more pronounced. Mouth watering yet? Now you’ve got to get yourself to Bangkok to try it.
Stuff a Malaysian apam balik (turnover pancake) in your mouth and you’ll never accept the oh-so-ordinary American-style pancake again. It starts with a swirl of secret batter, then margarine, sugar, peanuts and canned sweet corn are layered on top. The resulting crispy shell is folded over like a taco. They’re cheap and sinfully good, hot off the griddle — the creamy and crunchy insides are harmony in the mouth. Find yourself a “pancake man” in the streets (a haven for all kinds of delicious street food) and try to eat just one.
Who knew fava beans, a dash of salt, lots of cumin and tart, fresh lemon slices could be so satisfying? Millions of Beiruti street food connoisseurs, that’s who. This healthy and simple dish, called foul in Arabic, is best enjoyed while walking along the Corniche, Beirut’s palm-tree-lined seaside promenade.
Simply put, spicy ddeokbokki is the Korean street version of mac and cheese. The ultimate comfort food, these glutinous, tubular-shaped rice sticks, typically slathered with a flaming-hot gochujang (fermented red chili paste) sauce are a culinary crowd-pleaser. The traditional dish was once a savory gourmet version enjoyed by the upper echelons of society, but now everyone can enjoy the (much better) sloppy street versions ladled out by roadside vendors.
Pit cooking happens throughout Mexico, but in the center of the country, it’s an obsession. Barbacoa is a traditional BBQ art that dates back 500 years. The meat, which sits on a top grill in a pit oven, is covered with spice branches, leaves and dirt, creating a natural smoker that cooks overnight. The result: a slab of silky-soft lamb with a savory, musky taste that you can enjoy in the form of BBQ tacos, sopes and tlacoyos. Sabroso!
Some More Fast-Food Favorites:
- Best Frito Pie in the World: Chuck Wagon in Sanger, California, serves up an epic pile of corn chips smothered in beans, beef, a gooey melt of cheese and fresh-cut jalapeños.
- Best Burgers in Jamaica: The roadside shack known as Woody’s Low Bridge Place is home not only to truly fantastic burgers but also made-to-order authentic Jamaican meals in the garden.
- South Africa’s Best Fish-and-Chips: At Hook Line and Sinker in Pringle Bay, crispy fish and delicious chips are served with a delightful side of snark.
- San Diego’s No-Frills Burritos: Roberto’s in San Diego is the taco shop other taco shops aspire to be. Go for the asada fries: a mound of fries, cheese, pico de gallo, beans and spoonfuls of meat — a concoction that doesn’t make any sense unless you’re really, really buzzed.