The World’s Best Street Foods

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Think outside the restaurant! Savour local flavours with these top 10 street eats from around the world

The flavours of a new destination aren’t just in restaurants — they’re found in the small cafes, roadside stands, markets and bazaars where locals and visitors alike gather. They’re the local specialties you grab for a quick meal, a snack that offers pleasure and sustenance or an indulgence to be shared.

When the food is well-prepared, of course. Finding the best local fare shouldn’t be a process of trial-and-error. To that end, the folks at Lonely Planet have assembled The World’s Best Street Food — a guide to 100 of the best foods you’ll encounter on your travels.

It’s difficult to choose just a few, but here are 10 top picks whether you’re travelling abroad or looking to bring some international flavour into your home.

Pizza al taglio, Rome, Italy

Pizza connoisseurs know it’s all about the crust, and in Rome that crust is thin and crisp and cooked to perfection. Don’t go looking for triangles — this pizza is sliced up in rectangles and sold by weight. You’ll find a variety of toppings, including an assortment of fresh herbs, cheeses, meats and vegetables. Opt for a classic like pizza bianca (topped with olive oil and herbs instead of sauce and cheese) or pizza rossa (tomato sauce only).

Where can you find it? Try Forno Campo de’Fiori in Rome — or look for a place with long line-ups of locals and queues of pizza waiting to hit the ovens. (Avoid spongy crusts at all costs!) Prices can vary between 1.50 to 2.50 Euros.

If you’re a pizza connoisseur, look for Cuba’s peso pizza (one of the country’s cheapest eats) and man’oushe (a Lebanese flatbread with an assortment of toppings).

Chimney Cake, Hungary

A dessert should be fun to eat, and the shape of this unique treat makes it perfect for sharing (especially with kids). Originally hailing from the hills of Transylvania, this cake used to be fare for special occasions before it spread to markets in the 19th century. The dough is wrapped in a spiral around a wooden spindle, covered with butter and sugar and then cooked over an open fire until golden. While still hot, it can be topped with cinnamon, sugar, walnuts, pecans or poppy seeds.

The best place to get it? Try the stalls at Budapest’s Festival of Folk Arts in August. Each twisty cake will run you about 300 Hungarian forints (about $1.35 CAD). Unwrap the spiral while enjoying a morning cup of coffee or evening cup of tea.

Pho, Hanoi, Vietnam

Soup for breakfast? You bet! A nod to its French and Chinese roots, this noodle soup is how a local starts the day. A rich beef broth flavoured with star anise, cardamom and ginger is the starting point for fresh noodles, herbs, mild chillies, crunchy beanshoots and meat (often chicken, slices of beef, brisket or meatballs).

Pho tends to be more elaborate in the South of the country than the North, and a must have in Hanoi. You can find it restaurants — like Lonely Planet’s pick, the Quan An Ngon — though it’s more expensive than buying it at a street stall. Still, the difference isn’t likely to break your travel budget: we’re 45,000 dong ($2.15 CAD) versus 20,000 dong (just under $1.00).

If you enjoy slurping soup, you’ll want to try mohinga in Myanmar, kuaytiaw in Thailand and bsarra in Morocco.

Ice Kacang, Singapore and Malaysia

How can you not love a dessert that’s best described as an “explosion in a sweet shop”?  This cool treat features shave ice as its base but soon turns into a colourful concoction of fruit syrups, adzuki beans, evaporated milk, palm seeds, sweet corn, nuts and sprinkles. (Plus any other topping the vendor has on hand.

Where should you look for it? Head straight to the street hawkers — each one has his or her own secret combinations and it’s fun to watch the process of assembling the dessert However, if you’re concerned about hygiene, food courts in malls use factory-made ice. Either way, this delicious dessert will cost you less than $1.00 CAD.

Masala Chai, India

It’s made its way across the globe, but there’s nothing quite like sipping a cup with a salty snack in the place that invented the beverage. Literally meaning “mixed tea”, this traditional beverage is made by brewing strong tea, milk, sugar and spices. Ginger, cardamom and Indian cinnamon are popular, but you’ll also find variations with black pepper, cloves and lemongrass.

Not surprisingly, twilight is the most popular time of day to enjoy a cup. That’s when locals flock to chai-wallahs (chai vendors) on their way home from work to unwind and do some people watching. Lonely Planet recommends indulging in a masala chai if you find yourself in Mumbai’s suburb of Santa Cruz West where the beverage will run you 7 rupees (about 15 cents).

Kushari, Cairo, Egypt

Regardless of the time of day or season, kushari may just be the national Egyptian comfort food. Cheap and filling, the dish starts with humble vermicelli noodles, rice, chickpeas and lentils. However, the wow factor comes from the sauce — a tomato sauce rich with garlic, all topped with a garnish of caramelized onions, garlic vinegar or chili.

While the dish is common among street vendors, it’s so popular that many restaurants in Cairo have made it their speciality — like the Abou Tarek Restaurant. Depending on the size of your portion, budget for 2 to 5 Egyptian pounds (about $.33 to $.83 CAD).

Jerk Chicken, Jamaica and the Caribbean

If you think the Caribbean is all about fruity drinks and coconuts, think again! This spicy meat with its sweet, sticky blackened crust has become synonymous with Caribbean cuisine. Scotch bonnet chillies, sugar, all spice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and fruit juice are among the many flavours you’ll detect in each bite.

How best to enjoy it? Try the thatched-roof, open air shelters of a Scotchies Jerk Centre in Montego Bay, Kingston or Ocho Rios in Jamaica. (Watch for authentic sides like roasted breadfruit to accompany your meal.)  Expect to pay between 170 to 425 Jamaican dollars (about $2.00 to $5.00 CAD).

Açai na Tigela, Coastal Brazil

Who says you can’t enjoy healthful foods on vacation? Brazilians have been enjoying this superfood for centuries — long before it become trendy in North America. In this dish, the pulp from the luscious deep purple fruit is topped with granola and sliced banana. The concoction is topped off with a generous helping of guarana syrup. Beware: this fruit-based syrup contains naturally occurring caffeine — making this dish the perfect morning boost.

According to Lonely Planet, this dish is popular all along the coast but best enjoyed from a vendor along the Copacabana or Ipamena beaches. (Who can argue with some sun, sea and sand?) This treat will run you 3 or 4 Brazilian reals (roughly $1.65 to $2.20 CAD).

Choripán, Argentina

Sandwiches in all their glorious variations are a staple of street food in many countries, and Argentina is no exception. Preparing this popular food has practically become an art form, and you’re as likely to find it served up at street carts and soccer matches as at family barbeques. Chorizo sausage is nestled into a  crusty role or baguette and smothered in freshly made condiments like chimichurri – a sauce made with herbs, onions, garlic, tomato and olive oil.

You’ll find variations of choripán throughout the country, but Lonely Planet recommends Buenos Aires’ Costanera for its variety of puestos de choripán — that is, grill carts. Anywhere in the country, you can fill up on this popular sandwich for 5 to 10 Argentine pesos (about $1.15 to $3.30 CAD).

If you love sandwiches and wraps, there are many other famed ones to try — like Maine’s lobster rolls, Greece’s gyros, Israel’s falafel and India’s kati roll.

Poutine, Canada

Here’s a treat you can enjoy a little closer to home. No one can agree on how this fast food got its name, but rumour has it poutine is Quebecois slang for “mess”. If so, this dish of thick cut fries, fresh cheese curd and hot gravy is a delicious mess. While it got its start in Quebec, poutine has spread all over North America and the toppings can vary — including upscale restaurant additions like foie gras and braised short ribs.

However, you can find the classic version of poutine just about everywhere — but be particular, says Lonely Planet. The cheese curds should be so fresh they squeak when you eat them and the fries done to crispy perfection. Let your dish sit a moment to let the hot gravy melt the cheese, but don’t let it sit too long lest the fries get soggy.

Unfortunately, poutine isn’t as cheap as other street food — it can run up $6.00 – $12.00 depending on size and where it’s served. Thanks to it’s high fat and calorie content, you may want to share this one!

Naturally, this list is just enough to whet your appetite. Hungry for more? You’ll have to check out the book for the rest! Regardless of where you travel, there’s bound to be a local delicacy to tempt your taste buds.

(Note: currency conversions were current at time of writing. To find out how prices look now, try the XE Universal Currency Converter.)

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