In the backpacking scene, street food is one of the most passionately discussed topics. Real backpackers eat real street food, right? Well, … um … what exactly is street food?
Street food revisited
Street food exists all over the world, from the fry shacks in Belgium to dürüm kebabs and wet burgers in Turkey, empanadas in Argentina and banh mi in Vietnam. The term “street food” refers to locally made, authentic dishes sold from simple venues on or along the streets. You can buy “street food” at local farmers markets, at food courts, at small hole-in-the-wall restaurants, at street food festivals or from individual vendors who prepare their dishes in small carts or stalls.
If you want to get to know a culture—any culture—, opt to eat street food as opposed to “familiar” food in larger restaurants. There are a few reasons for that.
Finding good street food may require you to venture from the beaten tourist track and interact with locals. Ordering food from local vendors is the absolute best way of starting a conversation with locals. It's also a good way to practice your language skills. Additionally, street food shows you that it’s entirely possible to cook delicious dishes with simple, local ingredients and without having to spend hours in the kitchen.
Most Popular Street Food Dishes
The category “street food” encompasses all types of food that are sold from small venues along the streets by local chefs. A person may cook up an elaborate meal or serve simple wraps—it’s all considered street food. That means that you could sell pretty much every single dish on the planet as “street food.” However, that being said, there are some street food dishes that are much more popular than others—they’re the classics. Would you have come up with all of these?
- Crêpes, France (flat pancakes with everything from fruit and chocolate to eggs, meats and/or vegetables)
- Waffles, Belgium (large crunchy waffles served with chocolate, powder sugar and/or fresh fruit)
- Dürüm Kebab, Turkey (flatbread wrap filled with spiced meat, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, herby yoghurt sauce and hot sauce)
- Tajine, Morocco (meat, vegetables, spices, herbs, fruit and nuts, all stewed in an earthen pot)
- Rou jia mo, China (flatbread stuffed with spiced minced pork, peppers and cilantro)
- Bhel puri, India (puffed rice, thin noodles, chutneys, spices and vegetables)
- Banh mi, Vietnam (baguette filled with meat, cucumber, pickled carrots, cilantro, mayonnaise and other ingredients)
- Pork satay, Thailand (skewers of pork, beef or chicken marinated in coconut milk, turmeric and other spices, served with a pickled cucumber salad and peanut sauce)
- Hokkien mee, Singapore (stir-fried noodles with pork, egg, garlic, bean sprouts, soy sauce and pork, squid and shrimp)
- Tacos al pastor, Mexico (small tortillas served with onions, cilantro, lime juice, hot salsa and cooked pork marinated in pineapple, spices and chillies)
- Choripan, Argentina (crusty bread with a grilled pork-and-beef sausage and topped with garlic sauce)
- Espetinho, Brazil (spiced beef, chicken, pork, shrimp and/or fish skewers)
Best Street Food Festivals in the World
If you’re new to street food, there’s no better place to start exploring this distinct cuisine than street food festivals. We all know about the world’s greatest food destinations—France, Italy, Mexico, Thailand, Japan, anyone?—but our knowledge of the best street food festivals might be limited.
Therefore, we’ve made an overview of some of the best street food festivals in the world below.
• Napoli Pizza Village, Naples, Italy
• Rolling Kitchens, Amsterdam, the Netherlands
• Brussels Food Truck Festival, Brussels, Belgium
• MadrEAT, Madrid, Spain
• Smaka Pa Stockholm, Stockholm, Sweden
• Phuket Vegetarian Festival, Phuket, Thailand
• Savour, Singapore
• Pahiyas Festival, Lucban, Philippines
• Toronto Ribfest, Toronto, Canada
• Chicago Food Truck Festival, Illinois, United States
• Street Eats Food Truck Festival, Scottsdale, Arizona, United States
• Wildfoods, Hokitiko, New Zealand
What Makes a Good Street Food Festival?
Although there are literally countless of street food festivals all over the world, there are a few things that set the great ones apart from the average ones. A good street food festival is characterised by a large variety of food stalls, an offer of real, authentic dishes, whether it’s pizzas, tacos, dim sum or seafood.
A key aspect of what makes a good street food festival is also the atmosphere. Some festivals, like the Dubai Food Truck Jam, are situated in stunning locations such as picturesque backyards or harbour sites. Live Music or DJ sets have also become a common sight in most street food festivals.
Award-Winning and Famous Street Food Chefs
If you feel that street food equals low quality be aware that this distinct food even has its own celebrities like Chan Hon Meng from Singapore or Hong Kong-based chef Tim Ho Wan, offering Michelin-starred food for a price equivalent to only a few dollars or euros.