It’s a good time to be an impulsive eater. Street food, the helpmate of on-the-go-snackers and constant nibblers everywhere, has never been more vivid or widespread.
Gone are the days of having to walk through pallid streets unclouded with thick steam, great wafts of spices or the sound of sizzling oil. These days, there’s so many towering burgers dripping with cheese and batter-coated morsels crisp from the fryer it’s hard to know where to start.
Until now that is. My Late Deals, a UK holiday comparison company, have come up with a comprehensive ranking of the world’s street food, using data on price, cleanliness, user experience and the overall city – gathered from Google Maps, Numbeo, Unicef and more.
Read on for the destinations that made the top spots, and the dishes you can’t leave without trying.
Curry fish balls in Hong Kong
Hong Kong took first place in My Late Deal’s 2019 ranking thanks to both its high number of street food stalls and high levels of sanitation. It’s also reasonably cheap, with the average experience coming to £5.
Between the city’s creamy egg tarts, chewy bubble tea and silky, salty cheung fun, there’s one stand-out signature bite: the curry fish ball. Deep-fried in vast cauldrons of hot oil before being coated in a rich curry sauce, you’ll see workers and school kids everywhere popping these addictive balls as they walk the streets.
Where to try: You’ll find the city’s golden balls everywhere, but Tung Tat Food Shop is the go-to for both choice and price.
Oyster omelette in Bangkok
Coming in a close second on the list is Bangkok, home to the cheapest street food (with an average cost of just £1.61) and the second highest number of street food experiences. Where did it fall down? Those pesky sanitation levels – street food, of course, being the most delicious kind of Russian roulette you can play.
While you probably know to grab a pad thai or tom yum goong in Thailand’s capital, for something a little different seek out an oyster omelette, a greasy-but-so-good plate of egg crammed with saline oysters or mussels (or sometimes both). Or suan is the gooey version while hoy tod is deep-fried.
Where to try: In the middle of Chinatown sits Nai Mong Hoi Thod, who serve the most famous crispy omelette in the city.
Bánh xèo in Ho Chi Minh
Ho Chi Minh scored top marks for its sheer number of street food spots as well as being rated highly on affordability (with an average cost of just £1.77), but - like Bangkok - was held back by its sanitation. To enjoy the full breadth of the city’s dishes without risking your stomach’s wellbeing, book the Saigon Back Alley Street Food Safari ($65), which features 20 different (safe) bites.
Pho (beef noodle soup) and bánh mì (Vietnamese baguette sandwich) are probably the most famous food offerings in the country, but we’d recommend following in the footsteps of the late, great Anthony Bourdain and trying a bánh xèo (sizzling cake): a giant crepe usually filled with thin sliced pork, whole shrimp and bean sprouts, cooked in front of you on hot charcoal. Pair with a local Saigon beer for the authentic Bourdain experience.
Where to try: Banh Xeo 46A was Anthony Bourdain’s favourite spot and rightly so, but (largely thanks to his patronage) is now wildly popular with tourists. If you want an alternative that’s a little less crowded but just as delicious try Banh Xeo Muoi Xiem.
Hainanese Chicken Rice in Singapore
Singapore takes fourth spot thanks to its high levels of cleanliness (order freely without fear!) though is much pricier with an average cost of £7.10.
Singapore’s Kaya toast (crispy toasted bread topped with coconut egg jam) and laksa (curry noodle soup) are both delicious but it’s Hainanese chicken rice - widely considered Singapore’s national dish - you need to make sure you try. Fluffy, pandan-scented rice topped with tender chilli and ginger-splashed chicken - what more could you ask for?
Where to try: For a perfectly-balanced plate, it has to be decades-old Wee Nam Kee. There are several branches in and around the city but the Thomson Road location is the brand’s flagship.
Vada Pav in Mumbai
Coming in at fifth place is Mumbai who topped the chart with its huge number of street food vendors, as well as decent affordability (with an average price of just £3.43).
The state of Maharashtra’s leading street food is the vada pav - and there’s no better place to taste it than the capital, Mumbai. Made up of a batata vada (potato fritter) run through with herbs, ginger, garlic and chilli and deep-fried to give a satisfying crunch, placed in a ladi pav (bread bun) and daubed with chutneys that will make your eyes water, it’s frequently described as an ‘Indian burger’ - in reality it’s so much more.
Where to try: With a legacy of 70 years to its name, you have to try the fried chilli-and-onion stuffed vada pav at Aaram Vada Pav.
Supplì in Rome
There’s no more Roman delicacy than Supplì, not to be confused with Sicily’s more widely known arancini. The main difference is size and ingredients: Rome’s version are smaller bites of fried rice and ragu stuffed with cheese filling, where Sicily’s larger balls are historically made with peas and no cheesy goodness. The fillings tend to be moot now however, as chefs have gotten wildly creative with flavours over the years.
Where to try: Try cacio e pepe and carbonara supplì in Supplizio, the shop that makes these hot, golden mouthfuls so well it named itself after them
Shakshuka in Tel Aviv
Have you even been to Tel Aviv if you haven’t tried shakshuka? Devoured for breakfast, brunch, or sometimes dinner, Israel’s poached eggs smothered in spicy tomato sauce are addictive. Mop up the traditional stuff with fresh crusty bread - another Tel Avivian signature - or sample creative versions loaded with sausage, lamb or crumbly goat cheese.
Where to try: Just when you think you’ve had more shakshuka than you can take, head to Miznon, whose shakshuka-stuffed pita will have you saying, “go on then, just one more”.
Meat pies in Sydney
The street food in Sydney is all about meat, from sausage sizzles at Bunnings to the ubiquitous meat pies on every corner. These flaky, meaty treats can be found in both gourmet restaurants and being handed out by street vendors. Eat yours with mash and gravy on the side, or take bites out of it as you walk down the street.
Where to try: Kill two birds with one stone at Harry's Cafe De Wheels, where you’ll find both the best pies in Sydney and snag-stuffed hot dogs.
Tacos al pastor in Mexico City
A trip to Mexico City isn’t complete without gorging on tacos, the most chilango (slang for 'from Mexico City') of all being the ‘al pastor’ versions. Thought to be the legacy of the city’s Lebanese immigrants, it’s mash-up with shawarma and involves tacos filled with smoky meat sliced from a rotating spit dripping with juices. No other flavour is as truly Mexico City as this.
Where to try: One of the most famous taqueria’s in Mexico City is El Vilsito, home to an al pastor master who’s been shaving meat off the trompo for about twenty years.
Food carts in Portland
Food cart culture is the mark of Portland’s street food scene, having first started after the 2008 financial collapse when demand for cheap-but-tasty cuisine skyrocketed. Now the ‘carts’ (or to us, street food trucks) tend to be stationary, congregating together in outdoor food markets (or ‘pods’ to Portlanders) but all still doling out a staggering range of cuisines.
Where to try: Prost Marketplace is host to some of the tastiest food carts in Portland, including Matt’s BBQ, champions of succulent Southern barbecue and oozing ‘Queso Mac ‘n’ Cheese’.
Tteokbokki in Seoul
Tteokbokki, ddeokbokki, topokki or whatever you want to call them, the spicy rice cakes that dominate Seoul’s streets are a feat of sweet, spicy flavour. These lava-coloured snacks simmer and bubble away on stalls throughout the city. The texture is gnocchi-like, while the eye-catching colour is thanks to the cakes being liberally smothered in gochujang – a sweet, spicy Korean pepper sauce. Eat them with egg, cheese or noodles, or pluck them from a cup with a stick.
Where to try:The most unique street dishes in Korea can be found at Myeongdong Street Food Alley, which heaves with locals and tourists all clamouring for the grilled lobster, baked cheese skewers and, of course, tteokbokki on offer. Bring cash - credit cards aren’t accepted.
Tanghulu in Beijing
Nothing is more Beijing than Tanghulu: sticks laden with tart, sugary hawthorn berries. The scarlet hawthorn, a berry native to China that tastes like sour strawberries but crunches like a perfectly-ripe apple, is coated in liquid sugar and left to harden, creating a sweetly acidic treat.
Where to try: Buy them at Wangfujing Snack Street, ideally in winter when the sugar-glazed snack is traditionally eaten.
Currywurst in Berlin
Western street food can all too often be dominated by fusion mash ups that don’t always work, so get back to basics in Berlin with a humble currywurst. The dish that started this city’s food reputation, this is the foundation of good eating in Germany. A paper tray holding chunks of chopped bratwurst glistening with ketchup and dusted with curry powder may seem simple but is powerfully more-ish.
Where to try: Join the queues lining up for Konnopke's Imbiss, located under the Magistrate’s Viaduct in Schönhauser Allee. Running since 1930, it’s hard to find a more venerable sausage in the city.
Crêpes in Paris
Ordering crêpes, France’s most famous pancakes, is an art in Paris. One must learn the basics. Firstly, never order from a vendor who has a stack of pre-made crepes just waiting to be reheated - your crepe but be crafted before your eyes or not at all. Secondly, the ingredients should look fresh. Just because you’re in France, a nation of food obsessives, doesn’t mean you’re safe from le food poisoning. And thirdly, a fantastic crepe doesn’t mean you should go for the stale frankfurter sitting rather limply under the glass counter nearby.
Where to try: The best crêpes in Paris are at La Droguerie - order one from the little window in front of the shop, so you can enjoy your crêpe as you eye up the sights.
Simit in Istanbul
An icon of Istanbul, simit, a sesame-crusted bread, is beloved all over Turkey. There’s a special pleasure eating them in the capital though, your teeth sinking through the sesame crust and into the fluffy dough as you weave through the streets. True connoisseurs know to ask their nearest simitçi (simit vendor) when they get their bread delivered, so as to ensure they’re getting the rings at their moistest. Fillings like nutella, cream cheese and olive tapenade can be added, though the best pairing is always a steaming glass of Turkish tea.
Where to try: Jump the queues of punters at Galata Simitҫisi in Karaköy, where you’ll join queues of vendors instead - the simit emerging from their wood-fired oven supplies a large chunk of the stalls around the city.
Panino con le panelle in Palermo
Though Sicily’s saffron-scented arancini are probably their most famous export, it’s worth branching out and trying a panino con le panelle. These soft white roll wrapped around panelle - crisp squares of fried chickpea - are a textural marvel, combining a cloud-like dough with the firm crust of the panelle.
Where to try: It’s Sicily - so it’s difficult to find a bad panino con panelle here. Just try to buy one from as old a lady as possible. Chances are she’s been overfeeding local kids with them for years.
Chendol in George Town
This northwestern state is the heartland of Malaysia’s street food scene, with George Town, it’s capital, sitting as a veritable food shangri-la within it. A staggering diversity in ethnicity, culture and religion make for more dishes than you can ever hope to get through in trip. After you’re done trying though, it’s a bowl of chendol that you need to have. A bowl of shaved ice topped with chendol (green rice flour) jelly, red beans, fresh coconut milk and brown sugar syrup, it’s Penang’s most recognisable dessert.
Where to try: Follow the crowds to Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul. The stall’s been there for 80 years, and though it now has shops all over the place ordering from the original location is the best experience
Takoyaki in Tokyo
A gold mine of miniature snacks, Tokyo it’s easy to eat in Tokyo without walking into a single sit-down restaurant. Sticky dango skewers line the streets and there’s few pleasures greater than wolfing down glistening yakisoba noodles on a park bench. A trip to Tsukiji Market turns up a wealth of sweet and salty flavours: fish cake skewers studded with corn and tamago, a small brick of omelette meticulously formed from layers upon layers of egg.
But a Tokyo visit wouldn’t be complete without a plate of takoyaki - batter balls filled with grilled octopus that vendors flip over with toothpicks and criss-cross with sauce, mayo and nori (seafood flakes). Each perfect globe fills the mouth with the closest thing to street food heaven there is.
Where to try: Good takoyaki is available throughout the city, but Gindaco is one of the more dependable takoyaki chains.