The Best Street Food Around Asia
Brianna Mills, 06.06.18
Alternative Canteen: 10 min read
Forget fancy restaurants – some of the best meals in the world are served up on the streets. From Morocco to Indonesia, push carts, holes in walls and pop-up markets can be treasure troves of culinary delights. If you know where to look, that is. If you want to understand a country through its food, street food is one of the most authentic ways to experience the local buzz. So, how do you find these hidden gems?
Eat like a local
Better still, eat where locals eat*. Eat like a local is one of those slightly overused guidebook sayings that suggests it's just about what you eat. It's always possible to sample local delicacies at places filled with a few other tourists and not much else.
If you go to to Ubud, Bali, you'll find streets lined with (mostly foreign-owned) restaurants claiming to have the most authentic Indonesian food in town. However, all the Balinese locals are in a food court a few hundred metres away. These types of food courts are usually void of tourists but full of better quality dishes at a fraction of the "restaurant" price.
Don't get me wrong – these restaurants have their place. They're safe bets if you're not an adventurous eater. But if you want some atmosphere along with your delicious food, the best thing to do is to head to the street and eat whatever's on offer at the busiest places in town. Not only are you guaranteed authentic meals at local price, the high turnover of people frequenting these stalls is a reassuring guarantee of freshness.
Why is street food so popular?
Street food has had a bit of a hipster makeover in the past few years. There are now entire restaurants ironically dedicated to it and pop-up markets have become the trendiest places to eat out. Howeve, this sudden popularity in the west is a result of a new-found respect for food culture across most of the rest of the world. For a huge amount of people, street food is their source of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Buying supermarket groceries can end up being more expensive than having your dinner cooked up for you, not to mention the cost of having your own kitchen. And, when you have experts at your doorstep perfecting the same meals every day, why would you want eat anywhere else?
Here's just a flavour of some of the best street food on offer around the world and how to find it:
The best street food in Asia
Asia is the beating heart of street food. Full of flavour and rich in culture, wherever you go in Asia, you're likely to pick up a scrumptious snack just by walking through the streets. From the spice sensations of India to the comfort food of Central Asia, here's a little taste of some of the most Asian street food dishes on offer:
Samsa, Central Asia
Samsa, or somsa, are savoury pastries baked in a tandoor (a special clay oven). Samsas may look similar in name and appearance to an Indian samosa, but they taste more like a meat pasty than their spicy cousin. Samsas are often filled with minced meat and onions (sometimes potato or pumpkin) and are sold hot out of the tandoor.
Best somsa eaten: For meat samsas you can't beat the Livestock Market in Kashgar, China. For a light, veggie option, head to Samarkand Bazaar, Uzbekistan
Price guide: $0.10-$0.50 USD depending on location.
Take me to the somsa: Some classic Central Asian airlines include Somon Air, Uzbekistan Airways and Air Manas.
Samsa in Kashgar. Photo Credit: Uprouted
One of our top 10 pancakes around the world, the masala dosa is a Asian street food A-lister if there ever was one. A typical feature of the South Indian diet, dosas look like the classic French crêpe, but they're unlike anything you'll find in a Parisienne crêperie. Their main ingredients are rice and black gram and they're normally stuffed and served alongside sambar (a lentil-based stew in a tamarind broth). Like all authentic Indian food, it's a flavour sensation and a must-have Asian street food breakfast item.
Best Dosa eaten: A masala dosa in Hampi is the best one I've personally eaten, for the most authentic ones head further south.
Price guide: $0.20 - $0.70 USD depending on toppings.
There's nothing not to like about this Georgian street food — it's one of the best street foods in Asia! Khachapuri is a gooey cheese-stuffed bread found across the country, dished up on street corners and home-cooked for family Sunday lunches. Every region of Georgia has their own variation– the perfect excuse to sample one in every place you visit!
Best egg Kachapuri eaten: Sunday dinner in Zugdidi.
Price guide: $0.30 - $0.80 USD.
Egg rolls, India
Egg rolls are one of the most common items of Asian street food that you can find across India. They're a simple, safe, not-to-spicy Indian street food that anyone can handle. Basically, it's egg fried onto roti (Indian flatbread) and filled with onions, chillies and other vegetables.
Best egg roll eaten: Kolkata, the city most famous for this tasty treat, has some of the best and cheapest egg rolls out there.
Price guide: $0.20 - $0.60 USD depending on location.
Take me to the Egg roll: The best egg rolls share the same central hub as one of our favourite Indian airlines, Vistara
Momos, North India, Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal
Momos are named after the Chinese for "steamed bun" and are this region's variation on the classic dumpling. They are the perfect snack food. The most common variety of momos are stuffed with shredded cabbage and root vegetables, then served with a mouth-tingling hot sauce but meat versions pop up here and there. In some more touristy cafes you can get coconut-nutella momos which are as unauthentic as they are delicious.
Best momos eaten: The secret food capital of Northern India, Siliguri, which also acts as a gateway to Darjeeling
Price guide: $0.20 - $0.40 USD depending on vegetarian/ meat fillings.
Take me to the momos: Bagdogra Airport (IATA: IXB) is around 9km outside of Siliguri and serves SpiceJet, IndiGo and GoAir, amongst others
Noodle soup dishes, Thailand
From Khao soi Mae Sai to Yentafo, there are so many Asian street food noodle soup concoctions in Thailand that I can't even begin to list them all. To be honest, I couldn't even tell you which ones I've eaten. With a dish like this, I believe the "point at which soup looks best" tactic works very well. Although it's not the most famous item of Thai street food (nothing beats a good pad thai), it's definitely an underrated culinary gem.
Best Thai noodle eaten: Hatyai bus station.
Price guide: $1.00 - $1.50
Again a very common breakfast item, boazi or bao, is a type of filled steamed bun. Rounder and more 'bready' than the Tibetan momo, Baozi can have sweet or savoury fillings, the most popular being sugary peanut or pork. Most boazi are decorated so Asian street food vendors can tell apart their meat from their veggies. If you're vegetarian and not fluent in Chinese you're still going to struggle, however, if you eat anything, mystery baozi is a great breakfast game.
Best Baozi eaten: Baozi are popular across China but Chengdu, its gastronomical capital, serves up world-class steamed buns on every corner.
Price guide: Smaller ones are usually served in groups of 8 for $1.20 USD, larger ones are sold for $0.20-0.50 USD each
Possibly the best name for any street food ever — Asian street food or elsewhere in the world — takoyaki are typically fried balls of batter filled with octopus. Served hot off the frier, the balls are first glazed with a takoyaki sauce (similar to Worchestershire sauce) and covered in Katsuobushi. Tip: before you decide you don't like any street food in Japan, try it without Katsuobusi. Katsuobushi is dried, fermented and smoked bonito or tuna fish and it has a very strong, unfamiliar smell and taste.
Side-note: although sushi is seen as a quick snack in the west, for the good quality stuff in Japan it's usually a dine-in affair. The best 'street food' sushi is not actually Asian street food, in my opinion, it can be found in Australia.
Best Takoyaki eaten: Tokyo.
Price guide: $1-5 USD
Turang bulan, Indonesia
Spread across the whole country from Bali to Sumatra, Terang Bulan sellers come out at sundown to supply Indonesians with their evening dessert. Always paired on a stall with its deep-fried savoury Asian street food dish counterpart, Martabak, Terang Bulan is a thick pancake with a more crumpet-like consistency. Meaning bright moon in Indonesian, Teranag Bulan is cooked in a thick round pan and topped with condensed milk, cheese, chocolate sprinkles, peanuts or other regional variations.
Best turang bulan eaten: Yogyakarta, Java, is home to some of Indonesia's best street food and its dessert scene is no excpetion.
Price guide: $1 with two fillings
Take me to the turang bulan:* If you can't get to Indonesia, you can always attempt your own version!
Terang Bulan stal, Bali. Photo credit: uprouted.co.uk
Updated: October 2018