Experiencing Asian street food is one of the many traveling to Asia is worth your while. Asian street food is an adventure. It exposes you to exotic flavors you may not be familiar with. It also adds local color to your travels. After all, hunting for good street food takes you where the masses eat. In so doing, you get to observe up close the culture and way of life these people lead.
But where should you go to experience the best street food in Asia. While each Asian city has its own attractions when it comes to street fare, here’s a list of the four best Asian cities to visit if you have street food in mind.
Do you prefer fancy dining instead in Asia? Check this out: Michelin Restaurants in Southeast Asia.
You haven’t really been to Bangkok until you’ve tried its street food. This is a notion that many tourists and expats to this capital city of Thailand agree on. Bangkok’s street food is just like the city itself – chaotic and colorful, multifaceted and bold. Don’t be fooled by the food’s appearance. Otherwise, you’ll miss out on the opportunity for your taste buds to be dazzled.
It’s easy to find street food anywhere in Bangkok. But the best places to visit for street food there are:
Yaowarat is Bangkok’s very own Chinatown. It is considered to be the birthplace of Bangkok’s world-famous street food scene. In this place, food is taken pretty seriously. Only hawkers with the best street food to offer survive there. While the competition can be pretty hectic, you will always emerge the winner. And that’s because you get to eat gourmet-quality food for a lot less the price. Nighttime is when Chinatown comes alive and kicking, so if you want the full street food experience here, it’s best to come at night.
Banglamphu is Bangkok’s Old Town. It’s Bangkok’s backpacker central and where you’ll find its most popular tourist spots. A stroll through the area’s wet markets will yield fantastic street food discoveries you’re not likely to forget any time soon. Many of these food stalls are family-run and standing for decades, dishing out old-school recipes likely kept secret for generations.
. If you want more old-school Thai street food, the Saphan Lueng strip on the side of Rama IV Road is the place to go. The food here is just as good as those you’ll find in Yaowarat, though the clientele is more local than tourist. Here you can find almost anything – from cheap Thai-style rice porridge to slightly-pricey-but-so-worth-it crab claw noodles.
You’ll find a dizzying array of street food in Bangkok, but these dishes are sure to become your new favorites:
Som tam is shredded unripe green papaya crushed in a mortar and pestle, typically with chilies, garlic, palm sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, crabs, and peanuts. Despite its heat and savory taste, som tam actually makes for a refreshing snack. Eat it with rice and call it lunch.
Guay teow rhua
English-speaking travelers know guay teow rhua more as boat noodles. The name comes from the fact that they were originally sold by vendors on boats floating on Bangkok’s street-canals back in the day. These noodles are famous for their brown color, made with stock and pig’s blood. You can top your noodles with bean sprouts, crispy pork rind, morning glory, stewed beef, or whatever is available. These noodles are served in small bowls to encourage you to eat more and experiment with flavor combinations.
Khao pad poo
Khao pad poo is fried rice. But unlike regular fried rice, this Thai version is pretty kickass. Jasmine rice is cooked with fresh crab meat, eggs, fish sauce, lime juice, and cilantro. You only need to smell this rice to know it’s good.
A previous job brought me to Hong Kong at least twice a month so here is a place I have tried the most street food. Not once did I get a case of indigestion.
You can say that street food is the lifeblood of Hong Kong. For hundreds of years, hawkers have been vending food on moveable carts, serving quick meals to hungry members of the working class. These moveable carts have evolved into dai pai dong, literally restaurants with big license plates. The continuous development Hong Kong experiences have forced many traditional dai pai dong to close down and be replaced by modern alternatives. But the fact is these street food stalls have become part of Hong Kong’s unique food culture.
You can always find a decent stall selling outstanding street food in Hong Kong. The best ones, however, are found in these areas:
Graham Street, Central
Central may be the financial heart of the city, where you’ll find many of Hong Kong’s iconic buildings and landmarks. But within all that modernity is the stretch called Graham Street, the city’s oldest market street. Lined with food vendors on both sides, the street carries on the tradition of dishing quick and cheap eats to Hong Kong’s working class, who come in droves at lunchtime.
Mong Kok carries the distinction of being one of the busiest shopping districts in the world. Located in Kowloon, Mong Kok has retained much of its old-world appeal despite its quick move towards modernization. Part of its appeal is the presence of numerous food stalls selling a wide variety of Hong Kong street food, as well as international cuisines
Temple Street is one of Hong Kong’s most popular night spots. This is where tourists and locals alike go to score trendy but affordable fashion and cheap gourmet street food. If you’re into hunting for treasure – whether food, fashion, or knick-knacks – you’re sure to find it in a stall on Temple Street.
Hong Kong offers a wide assortment of traditional street food, but the ones you must try are:
Curry fish balls. These round and springy snacks the size of golf balls are the quintessential Hong Kong street food. They’ve been around since the 1950s and there are no signs of them going anywhere. Though few of these fish balls are now made with actual fish, their smooth texture and spicy taste are sure to curb those hunger pangs and please the taste buds.
Stinky tofu. Stinky tofu is considered to be the king of Hong Kong street food. Its distinct smell comes from brining the tofu in milk and other vegetable or meat flavorings. The brining process can take anywhere between a few hours or a few months. Don’t be put off by the smell, though. These deep-fried babies may stink, but they’re quite tasty, especially with some chili sauce. You’ll love how crispy they are on the outside yet creamy on the inside.
Try to get past a stall that sells egg waffles. See if you can resist it. Chances are you won’t. The smell of these waffles alone will hook you. You get to choose what flavor your waffles should have – chocolate, strawberry, green tea, sesame, or the traditional plain yellow ones. And you get to watch the vendor make it in front of you.
KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
Kuala Lumpur is a city of foodies. So it comes as no surprise that street food is part and parcel of the Kuala Lumpur food scene. KL’s denizens are always on the lookout for good eats, and there’s plenty of good eats to choose from. As a foodie, you won’t be bored with the street food of Kuala Lumpur.
Where do you score great street food in KL? It’s hard to choose, but you can always rely on these places for some neat street food discoveries.
Jalan Alor used to be known as Kuala Lumpur’s red light district. A major facelift, however, has transformed this street into the city’s largest collection of hawker stores. Whether you’re looking for simple fare to fill your tummy or something exotic to excite your taste buds, you’ll surely find it on this street.
Petaling Street stretches across the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. It’s a great example of Malaysia’s melting pot culture. Here on Petaling, you’ll find stalls run by Chinese, Malays, Indians, and other nationalities selling goods ranging from food to knockoff fashion. If you’re not interested in haggling for fashion, then go to Petaling for the food.
If you’re hankering for authentic Indian street food in Kuala Lumpur, the place to go is Brickfields. Brickfields is known as KL’s Little India because of the neighborhood’s high concentration of Indian residents. Its main street, Jalan Tun Sambanthan, is lined with hawkers selling Indian street food favorites.
When you’re in Kuala Lumpur, you should be adventurous and have a taste of all the street food that your eyes desire. But if you’re the picky type, you should at least try these eats:
You’ll find satay almost anywhere in Kuala Lumpur. These barbecued skewers may be made of chicken, fish, pork, beef, mutton, goat, or tofu. The best way to eat them is by dipping them in peanut sauce and nibbling them off the stick.
Malaysia’s unofficial national dish is popular breakfast fare in Kuala Lumpur. Nasi lemak consists of rice cooked in pandan leaves and coconut milk, fried anchovies in chili sauce and shrimp paste, cucumber slices, and boiled eggs. This dish is as fragrant as it is delicious.
Ice kacang. Nothing beats eating ice kacang on a hot day. Ice kacang is a mix of corn kernels, grass jelly, nata de coco, kidney beans, and other ingredients. To make it cool and sweet, this dessert is topped with shaved ice, condensed milk, and rose syrup. If you want it fancy, you can add a scoop or two of ice cream.
Singapore used to have a vibrant street food scene. Not anymore, though. In the interest of hygiene, safety, and aesthetics, the Singaporean government has confined hawkers to centralized food courts. The new location didn’t change the quality of the food, though. These food court hawkers still attract lines upon lines of customers. A couple have even earned Michelin stars.
Where can you sample tasty hawker food from this city-state at the tip of the Malayan peninsula?
Old Airport Road
The hawker center at Old Airport Road is the oldest in Singapore. Many believe this is the best as well. Tourists don’t usually visit this place because it’s out of the way from Singapore’s central districts. The locals, on the other hand, usually go out of their way to eat here. The food here is amazing, and usually for less than half the price it would fetch at a branded restaurant.
Located right across the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Maxwell Road is a good place to grab a bite and wind down after a day of strolling through Singapore’s Chinatown. There you’ll find local favorites famous even outside of Singapore. Even though it’s in Chinatown, you can expect to find stalls selling non-Chinese cuisine there.
Unlike Singapore’s modern hawker centers, Smith Street is a traditional food street. The place harkens back to the olden days when food sellers were still allowed to roam the city and offer their food. Smith Street opens at night, with food stalls opening on both sides of the road and the street itself occupied by dining tables.
When you’re in Singapore, don’t forget to try these treats:
Considered to be Singapore’s unofficial national dish, chili crab is a must-try for tourists and a favorite of the locals. It’s simply crabs steamed in tomato and chili sauce. It’s spicy and messy to eat, but it’s oh so good. This is one of my absolute favorites when I am in Singapore.
Hainanese chicken rice
Hainanese chicken rice is the perfect example of beauty in simplicity. A plate of this dish will give you steamed or boiled chicken on rice cooked in chicken broth. It’s served with cucumber slices and chili sauce on the side. This dish may not look much, but it’s lovely to eat.
Laksa. Laksa is another iconic Singaporean hawker food. This noodle dish has two variations. One is spicy and creamy, made with curry and coconut milk. The other is thin and sour, made with a tamarind soup base. Laksa can have chicken, fish, or shrimp topping the noodles. Whatever variation you get, you’re sure to feel refreshed after eating a bowl.
Asia’s street food is one of the best in the world. To make your trip to this part of the world complete, you must try Asian street food while you’re there.
Watch out for more Asian street food in the coming months. In the meantime, why not check out your gourmet eating options in Southeast Asia? Check my article Michelin-starred restaurants in Southeast Asia.