From tapioca-infused teas between the hectic streets of Taiwan to fresh, lime-doused papaya salads in the Land of Smiles, this list of the top street food treats in Asia is sure to have something for everyone. Enjoy…
Pad Thai, Thailand
For many a traveler, the simple fact of the matter is that pad Thai's taste-bud-tingling medley of peanut garnishes, sharp lime, chili, fresh greens and noodles adds up to the best street food on the globe. It's available everywhere in the Land of Smiles, from the throbbing roadsides of Khaosan (it's the perfect Chang sponge after your first night out with LBW there!) to the beaches of the Andaman Sea to the jungle-shrouded towns of the north. Oh, yea, and it only costs around 50 THB a sitting, which means about 1.5 USD! Who could resist?
The folk of Vietnam have risen Pho to nothing short of legendary status. The creation of the bubbling broth of noodles and greens is now an art, with masters of the street-side stalls standing arched, like old wizards, over their own batches of the stuff. The flavour? Well, that differs across the country, from Ho Chi Minh in the south to Hanoi in the north. Still, you can typically expect slow-cooked beef cuts, thin slices of chili, overtones of palette-cleansing ginger, strong garlic, oodles of beansprouts, five spice, star anise – the list goes on!
Banh mi, Vietnam
Sticking with Vietnam for a moment to bring foodies a taste of the French colonial era of the country, these crusty baguettes filled with sizzled omelets and oodles of Asian greens are another of the great street food treats of Southeast Asia. Curiously reminiscent of Europe, they are typically served with a dousing of mayonnaise and mustard, but also manage to pack in the more classic flavours of the east: soy-infused pork meat; beansprouts; coriander and crunchy veg. Oh, and don't be surprised if you come across a chili or two lurking within either.
Also known as gup chup and golgappa, this crunchy little street snack is surely one of the local favourites of India. It's made from an outer shell of crispy, deep-fried wheat flour, which is sizzled in a pot of hot ghee (yea, it's not the healthiest option) and then hollowed out to make room for the spicy chutneys and tamarind goo that goes inside. Some variations can even see the crispy packet stuffed full of chaat curries and chickpeas, but the recipe will typically depend on the region or the vendor – who often brings a personal taste to their creations.
Green papaya salad, Thailand
Locals call it the som tam Thai, travellers tend to just point and wait their place, mouth a-watering in preparation for the tasty symphony of Asian flavours that's coming their way: that cut papaya; those lime and palm sugar dressings; those roasted peanut infusions. Served all over the country, but especially popular in the more tropical south, the dish is a perfect example of the fresh and vibrant ingredients on offer in the Land of Smiles. It's typically delivered with a side of green beans and some sticky rice – making it a top snack as your strolling home from the beaches.
Head down to the tight-knit lanes of red-painted Malacca, where the old remnants of Dutch colonialism and British naval might still line the Indian Ocean, and you'll discover another top street food treat: Satay. Although it's served all over the region, from Indo's isles to Singapore to Malaysia's wild Borneo east, it's been made famous in the wealth of aromatic satay houses that pepper the roads here. Choose from a medley of skewers and kebabs (think huge mushrooms, spinach, tofu and chicken), rent a table, and boil up your ingredients in the huge vat of peanut sauce that bubbles in front. Mmmm.
Nasi goreng, Indonesia
After a long day riding the rolling waves of Bali's Kuta Beach or touring the fascinating temples of Uluwatu, roaming the macaque-spotted jungles of Ubud or scaling the misty volcanos of Lombok, there's arguably nothing better than a big plate of Indo's most recognizable street food staple: Nasi goreng. This chili-infused, peanut-flavoured fried rice is one of the most popular evening meals in the country. It hardly costs a dime in one of the local warung (roadside taverns) and is served with a fried egg nesting on top.
Although Liangpi hardly looks the most appetizing of the street foods on this list – those slimy noodles resemble eels as they writhe around on the plate – there's no denying the beautiful simplicity of the dish. Made from a handful of rice flour noodles, de-starched and boiled, each bowl derives its punchy taste from the drizzle of vinegar-based sauce that's doused over the top in healthy measures. Food writers struggle to pin down exactly what's the dominant flavour – is it tangy tamarind-esque? Is it nut? Is it soy?
Bubble Tea, Taiwan
Honeydew and green apple, dragon fruits and lychee, banana and chocolate, coffee and almond-ginger, there are more variations of Taiwan's famous bubble tea than you can shake a handful of soft tapioca balls at. And as luck would have it, that’s precisely what goes inside the mixture to give it that classic smooth and slushy consistency. Perfect for cooling off on a hot day wandering the streets of Taipei, the treat is thought to have emanated from one single teahouse in the back alleys of Taichung. True or no, it's now certainly one of the most recognizable street foods in the country.
One for the more sweet-toothed among us, jalebi sizzle and spit in huge pans of fat right across the Indian subcontinent and beyond, to Pakistan, Nepal and even Arabia. Made from a simple wheat dough that’s rolled into a pretzel-like whirl, the treats can often be seen frying on the roadsides of cities like Mumbai and Delhi, Jodhpur and Calcutta. Western folk often grimace at the uber-sugary flavours, which can sometimes be just a little too much. Most will come back for more though – jalebi have a way of doing that…
Of course, we know there are oodles of other tasty street treats out there in the big, wide continent that is Asia. Help us create a bible for the budding foodie right here by adding any suggestions you have to the comments below. Or, if you think it's time you headed out to explore the wondrous bazaars and food markets of Thailand, Nam, Indo and others, be sure to check out LBW's range of trips in Asia.
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