July 20, 2012 / 10:49 AM / in 5 years

Travel Picks: Top 10 cities for street food

LOS ANGELES, July 20 (Reuters) - Summer holidays are definitely
on by now and wherever you go there will be street food. In many
countries that doesn't mean a hot dog on a bun, but a delicious
celebration of culinary heritage. In honour of those
mouth-watering meals abroad, the members and editors of travel
website VirtualTourist.com (www.virtualtourist.com) have
compiled a list of the "Top Ten Best Street Food Cities."
Reuters has not endorsed this list:

1.  Bangkok, Thailand
    Few places in the world, if any, are as synonymous with
street food as Thailand. For the variety of locations and
abundance of options, we selected Bangkok, Thailand, as our
number one spot for street food. Bangkok is notable for both its
variety of offerings and the city's abundance of street hawkers.
VirtualTourist members recommended Soi Rambuttri, a U-shaped
lane off of Khao San Raod and near Wat Chana Songkhram, as a
great spot in the old district of Bangkok. One member lovingly
described his last meal there: after getting an enormous Pad
Thai from a street vendor against the wall, he turned 180
degrees to find an open air beer garden. Another highly
recommended spot is Soi 38 near Sukumvit, which is almost like
an evening food market, running until about 3 am, and very close
to much of the city's best nightlife. Green Papaya salad bruised
on a stone pestle, mango sticky rice, pad thai (stir-fried
noodles with egg, fish sauce, tamarind juice, red chili pepper,
and a combination of meat, garnished with crushed peanuts and
lime), and chicken with green curry are all some of the Thai
specialties our members mentioned finding in Bangkok.
2.  Singapore.
    The undisputed up-and-coming spot for street food in
Southeast Asia is Singapore, though street food already has a
long history in the city. In the 1950s and 60s, "street hawking"
was an incredibly popular trade, however, the abundance of
street hawkers eventually created sanitation and public health
issues. In 1968 and 1969, all street hawkers were forced to
register, and for the next fifteen years, the government
relocated hawkers to "hawker centres." These centres can be
described as a hybrid of a food court and an organized market
with street food stalls. While this structure lacks the
spontaneity and theatrics of say, Mexico City, it has led
Singapore to gain the reputation as having one of the safest and
most reliable street food cultures in the world.
    Singapore's cuisine is reflective of its interesting
position in Southeast Asia and the multi-cultured mix of
Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese that
intermarried with Malays) citizens who call the island home. The
city's specialties include Hainanese Chicken Rice, comprised of
steamed chicken with a jelly-like layer with rice, cucumbers,
chillies, and pounded ginger; chile crabs, which come slathered
in a garlicky and fiery paste; laksa, a spicy Peranakan (Chinese
& Malaysian) noodle soup; and satay, skewers of marinated and
grilled meats served with a peanut sauce.
3.  Penang, Malaysia
    One of the surprising aspects in researching this article
was our member's overwhelming enthusiasm for Penang, a small
state and island on the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia,
as one of the best street food spots in Asia. Members credited
the three large ethnic groups in Penang (Malay, Chinese, and
Indian) as creating both a great variety in the street food, but
also a multicultural influence on the cuisine as a whole. One
member even stated he had better Indian food in Malaysia than he
had in India! The Little India and Chinatown areas of
Georgetown, on Penang Island, are noted for their hawkers and
cuisine. Char koay teow (stir-fried rice noodles), assam laksa
(a tart, hot and sour fish soup), roti (Indian-influenced
flatbread), and satays of beef, chicken, or even pork are all
suggested.
4.  Marrakech, Morocco
    Multiple VirtualTourist members recommended Marrakech's main
square, Djemaa el Fna, as THE spot to find your street food
snack while in Morocco. Located in the city's medina quarter
(old city), the square contains close to a hundred food stalls
serving a variety of Moroccan cuisine that can be eaten at
nearby wooden tables on the square. The options range from the
standard Moroccan fare of roasted lamb and couscous, to more
exotic fare like sheep's testicle and escargots, and they change
as the day goes on. In the morning, stalls serve fresh squeezed
orange juice, followed by eggplant, kebabs, and brochettes in
the afternoon. As evening rolls around, enjoy some snails or
harira soup (tomato-based spcied chickpea soup) to start,
followed by tangine chicken, shwarma, or lamb.
5.  Palermo, Sicily
    Italian cuisine is world-renowned, but the country's culture
appreciates sitting and lounging over a meal, so though their
pizza and gelato have a serious corner on the "To Go" food
market, the Italian street food scene is surprisingly lacking.
However, one VirtualTourist member was extremely passionate that
her best street food experience was in Palermo, Sicily. Of the
city's fried delicacies, our member recommended arancini (fried
rice balls stuffed with meat sauce and cheese), crocche (Fried
potato balls), panelle (friend chick peas pancake), and cardoni
(fried cardoon), with panelle and cardoni as her favorites for
their sour aftertaste. A typical Palermitano snack is "panino
con la milza," or spleen sandwiches, available plain or
"maritata," meaning with cheese. In addition to these
specialties, it's still a great spot to get classic quick
Italian foods like coffee granita, Sicilian pizza, gelato, and
cannolis.
6.  Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
    Vietnamese cuisine has received some major street cred in
recent memory (Anthony Bourdain's praise comes to mind), and a
quick visit to Ho Chi Minh City's Ben Thanh or Binh Tay Markets
explains why. Similar to the other Southeast Asian destinations
listed, the street food in Saigon embraces a mix of cultures,
primarily the city's French colonial background with Vietnamese
spices and ingredients. In addition to Vietnamese standards of
pho and bánh mì, some other notable dishes include cm tm
(cooked broken rice) with a fried egg on the top, Bo La Lot
(seasoned beef in a leaf), and spring rolls. A member noted that
no matter what Cm tm dish you get, it will always be served
with nc mm (fish sauce), and since each street food stall
usually makes their own, people will often choose which stall to
return to based on their nc mm. However, since hawker
registration and street food health standards aren't as
stringent in Vietnam, travelers should be careful to always
choose popular, crowded stalls with high turnover.
7.  Istanbul, Turkey
    It's not hard to imagine why a city that straddles two
continents is a must-see stop for street food. From the
visually-striking stalls selling döner (lamb, chicken, or beef
on a vertical skewer) to the balik ekmek (fish sandwiches) sold
off of boats, one of the greatest attributes of Istanbul's
street food is the variety of options. Mornings can start with
simit, a ring-shaped bread topped with toasted sesame seeds and
akin to a crisper bagel, afternoons begin with a kebab, and a
snack of midye dolma (stuffed mussels) is a great break from
site-seeing. Two locations noted for their street food are the
beginning of Istikal Caddesi in Taksim, and near the Galata
Bridge in the Eminonu area if you're hankering for a fresh fish
sandwich.
8.  Mexico City, Mexico
    While Mexican cuisine in other countries has sadly been
oversimplified to the taco and quesadilla, a quick stroll around
the Mercado San Juan, the La Merced, or Centro Histórico in
Mexico City will open your eyes to a variety of antojitos
(street snacks) available. Some aspects of Mexico City's street
food are well-known, like tacos al pastor, made with pork and
pineapple and served on small corn tortillas, but other treats
have been adopted in so many places that it's surprising to find
out they originated in Mexico. A perfect example of this is
elote, or roasted corn on the cob, which is typically  served
with mayonnaise, cotija cheese, chili powder or flakes, and a
squeeze of lime. One street food that may not have originated in
Mexico, but was certainly perfected here, is the churro, a tube
of fried dough then powered with cinnamon. In Mexico City,
churros are often filled with chocolate or dulce de leche, but
can also be known to include fruits such as guava. It's
important for travelers to remember that the street food scene
in Mexico City is not very well regulated.  Play it safe, go to
a spot that has been recommended to you or join one of the
street food tours offered throughout the city.
9.  Brussels, Belgium
    While we promised an article free of French crepes, we
certainly can't compile an article on street food sans frites!
Two stands vying for top spot in French-influenced Brussels are
Frit' Flagey in Place Flagey and Maison Friterie Antoine in
Place Jourdan, which is also famous for its variety of sauces,
from the traditional Flemish topping of mayonnaise to a
Brazilian take on ketchup and quatre poivres. Multiple VT
members noted that waffles in Belgium, apparently vastly
different from the American version of Belgian waffles, are
alone worth the trip on the Eurostar. While the Brussels-style
somewhat resembles the wide-spread notion of a Belgian waffle,
the Liege waffle is denser and coated in a caramelized sugar.
Either variety can be topped with powdered sugar, fresh whipped
cream, strawberries and/or chocolate. One final treat not to
miss are Brussels' shellfish specialties of moules frites
(mussels served with fries) and caricolles (small snails boiled
in broth).
10. Beachside Ceviche in Ambergris Caye, Belize
    While most street food involves a cart or a hawker center,
isn't the definition of street food supposed to be fresh, on the
go, and not in a formal restaurant? If we define it that way,
it's impossible for us to not mention how great food can taste
on a beach, freshly caught in salt water and prepared in front
of you. While recouping from a snorkel or sail in Ambergris
Caye, Belize, you might be offered red snapper or barracuda, but
lucky travelers who visit Belize between September 30 and April
24 will be able to have conch ceviche, a seafood dish comprised
of raw fish marinated in acidic citrus such as lemon or lime and
spiced with chili peppers, cilantro, or regional spices. This
specialty, at least the conch variety, must be enjoyed while it
can, since conch recently became an endangered species and the
season has actually been cut two months short for the time being
in Belize. VirtualTourist members also recommended Peru, Costa
Rica, and Isla Mujeres in Mexico as great spots to get some
beachside ceviche. If you can't make it quite that far, a
slightly easier option is My Ceviche, a small takeout window in
South Beach, Miami, that despite only being open for two months
has already garnered great word of mouth around town.

 (Editing by Paul Casciato)

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