The true culture and culinary traditions of a city are revealed in the street food. Vendors pride themselves on the different flavors, textures, and aromas that engage all five senses.
Even in cities celebrated for their restaurants, street food remains the ultimate casual dining experience for locals while providing visitors a window into the gastronomic heritage of a country. Street food around the globe blurs the lines between authentic culinary customs and exciting gastronomic exploration bursting from outdoor markets, carts, or kiosks.
The following list offers insight into the world’s 10 best cities for street food revealing the depth of culinary delights around the globe.
While doner kebab has become a staple of Turkish cuisine across Western Europe, Istanbul provides an amalgamation of delicious cultural dishes served from kiosks scattered across the country’s largest city. Börek—a flaky pastry—and simit— a ring-shaped sesame bread similar to a pretzel—create an evocative aroma drifting through the streets. As the capital of Turkey, Istanbul draws people from across the country who bring their culinary traditions and flavors making the streets a sampler platter of different delights. Kebabs, lahmacun—which is similar to a Turkish pizza—and traditional pistachio ice cream known as Dondurma are the of Istanbul.
The bustling streets of the Vietnamese capital host the most popular street food in the country with vendors offering fare on busy street corners or hidden in alleyways. The scent of steaming bowls of pho drifts down the walkways and through the motorbikes swerving in the chaotic traffic. Bahn mi sandwiches have become a favorite international Vietnamese street food with its bright and lush flavors of meats like shredded pork skin or sausage with cilantro, cucumber slices, and pickled carrots all served on a French baguette. Vendors also serve delicious fish soup, stuffed pancakes, and light, crunchy spring rolls.
Pop-up food stalls have been popular in Fukuoka, Japan since the 17th century, but they erupted after the Second World War. Mobile open-air stands can host up to 10 diners which promotes a communal experience even in a casual setting. The city has approximately 150 food stalls with many customarily offering the local specialty of tonkotsu ramen, a creamy pork broth topped with ramen noodles, sliced pork belly, and an array of fresh vegetables. Other traditional dishes like hot pot include grilled chicken skewers, thinly sliced beef, tofu, or seafood served with leafy greens and mushrooms.
A little-known secret outside of South Africa is that Durban boasts the best street food scene in the country due to its blend of unique flavors and culinary influences. It is known for its great year-round weather but is also a great place for a gastronome with its Indian, Zulu, and white South African influences. The result is delicious curries, celebrated vegetarian options, and juicy chicken dishes from small street-side stalls and active markets which both emphasize quality through fresh ingredients. Bunny chow has emerged as the quintessential Durban street food consisting of a hollowed-out loaf of bread stuffed with vegetarian curry.
Whether in the mood for freshly squeezed fruit juices or sampling the traditional flavors of snail soup, walking through the bustling aisles of Djema el-Fna Square in the evening tantalizes the senses. Chefs from around the world have visited the city for centuries in search of the elaborate spices that are included in lentil and chickpea soup, dried fruits, nuts, and grilled meats. Street vendors serve a type of pastry similar to a pancake hot from the stovetop. Cookies and pastries are common in the markets, bursting with bright colors and mouthwatering syrupy flavors.
The hand-painted carts decorating the streets of Mumbai foretell the vibrant and bright flavors of the city’s enticing street food. Vegetarian delights of all kinds radiate with aromatic spices from the crowded markets. Instead of searching for signs, Mumbai is a city where you follow the crowds in search of savory biryanis and sweet malpua pancakes. Whether exploring the shores of Chowpatty Beach or walking through the Fort businesses district, you will find delectable kebabs, fried potatoes, and fresh mango lassis.
When visiting Jordan, Amman is the heart of the country’s street food scene with tantalizing dishes combining Persian, Mediterranean, and North African flavors. Restaurants open to the antique walkways of the city which highlight the history of Amman’s urban heritage from the chic neighborhoods to the ancient citadel. The Arabic pizza known as manakish sings with spices like za’atar and is drizzled with olive oil, topped with halloumi cheese, and covered with eggs and ground meat. The dough is baked in a brick oven adding a distinct aroma of charcoal grills. Amman street food also consists of oval-shaped rings of bread called kaak, creamy hummus, and traditional Jordanian falafel.
Paris is known for its chefs of culinary mastery and a gastronomic scene guaranteed to seduce visitors from around the globe. Paris was slow to join the street food revolution but has since helped utilized the city’s reputation for using quality, fresh ingredients to create affordable gourmet food available on street corners. Beyond the veil of haute cuisine in the restaurants, you can find the inspiring flavors of the humble traditions of Parisian dishes like roasted chestnuts or crepes. The crepes are stuffed with gruyere cheese, ham, and eggs or sweet crepes filled with creamy Nutella and ripened sliced banana. Food trucks and canteens have erupted in popularity and offer international flavors with a French twist.
This famous city fuses the gastronomic traditions of Portugal, the flavors of Indigenous Brazil, culinary customs of West Africa, and influences from Japan for an exciting and unexpected culinary combination. The coastal ambiance of the city makes eating by the water a necessity. Enjoy empanadas, skewered meats, cheese bread, and tropical fruit juices as you enjoy the seaside air. Vendors fry tapioca into a pancake with shredded coconut topped with ham and cheese or chocolate spread and banana while small wagons offer freshly made popcorn cooked with pieces of bacon
The Caribbean city of Cartagena is filled with open-air street grills. On them are fired skewers and chorizo and plazas have vendors serving arepas stuffed with cheese or egg. The antique walls of the Spanish fortress, as well as the markets outside of the historic city center, show the fascinating hybrid of Spanish, African, Caribbean, and Indigenous South American influences. Vendors exhibit their expertise through tomato-shrimp cocktail, ceviche, and fried green plantains with garlic. The grilled corn cakes known, as arepas are the most common and celebrated street food around Colombia often served from the street carts, food trucks, and kitchen windows.