Anthony Bourdain once said, “Street food is the salvation of the human race.” We would never disagree with him when it comes to food, so we’ll start off with that and head straight into the list of street food everyone should try — even pick eaters (like us). Because getting sick on vacation is no fun, we recommend these 10 foods that rank higher on the list of “safe” street foods. One last tip: bottled water.
#1 Chou Doufu
Where to find it: Taipei
What is it? You’ll smell it from a mile away and although it might make you want to run in the opposite direction, just close your nose and head straight towards it. This deep-fried or grilled tofu gets its distinctive odor from the fermentation process, which also gives it a very flavourful, almost salty taste. It goes perfectly with picked vegetables. You can find stinky tofu all over Asia but in Taipei it’s hand-made and you know what they say, food made with love always tastes much better.
#2 Asam Laksa
Where to find it: Malaysia
What is it? We hope you like fish paste, noodles, onion and… sour broth. Okay, so that doesn’t sound too appealing but we promise, this dish grows on you. Malaysia’s hipster town Penang has the most authentic asam laksa, but as the foodie capital of Malaysia (sorry, Malacca!), keep your eyes peeled and noses out for these other Penang bites.
#3 Fish Amok
Where to find it: Cambodia
Strangely and unfortunately, Khmer cuisine isn’t as common outside Cambodia as it should be. Authentic Khmer cuisine sees a lot of steamed rice and curries, but their street food is always ready to serve hungry travellers on the go. Fish amok is cooked with coconut curry in banana leaves, getting its rich taste from spices like lemongrass, kaffir lime and turmeric. They key ingredient is a local herb called slok ngor that gives it just a tinge of bitterness.
#4 Pani Puri
Where to find it: India
What is it? Proving that potato can do no wrong (think about it) are these crispy hand-molded spheres filled with onions, lentils and everybody’s favourite — potato. The balls are marinated in a sweet-and-sour blend of tamarind, jaggery, coriander, mint and garam masala. They’re pretty filling and although you will want to keep stuffing your face, resist. But then again, aren’t lentils a health superfood?
Where to find it: Singapore
What is it? It’s hard for everyone to agree on the best satay spot, but that’s just because satay is so good anywhere, anytime. Unless you’re vegetarian. Beef or chicken are commonly used for the grilled meat on skewers, and served with a creamy, chunky peanut sauce. Satay also comes with slices of cucumber and onion if you want to create a sort of kebab. Otherwise people tend to just ignore it.
#6 Kwek Kwek
Where to find it: Philippines
What is it? Deep fried quill eggs but don’t worry, these are actual hard boiled eggs and not the balut (duck embryo) you’ve been hearing about. This snack has a bright orange shade and a nice aroma, served alongside a spicy vinegar dipping sauce. Fun fact: the distinctive colour comes the use of a mild, peppery spice called atsuete, which was brought to the Philippines by the Spanish.
#7 Nasi Campur
Where to find it: Bali
What is it? Translating to ‘mixed rice’, anything (well, almost anything) goes. Think Asian salad bar, rice optional. A whole array of dishes are placed along the table, with about five or more different meats and a just as generous selection of vegetables. The only difficulty here is not knowing exactly what you’re putting on your plate. Paru-paru sounds pretty but it’s lungs, FYI.
#8 Mango Sticky Rice
Where to find it: Thailand
What is it? Dessert! We love mango (bonus: dried mango in the Phillipines — also a delicious street snack) but making a good thing great is the addition of coconut sticky rice, drizzled with salted coconut milk. Toasted mung beans are tossed over for a little something extra. Pay close attention to the modest taste of pandan too. The only thing that can go wrong here is sour mango, but luckily most places use only sweet mango.
Where to find it: Japan
What is it? Basically, it’s Japanese satay. But instead of a chunk of meat, yakitori meat is served bite-sized and marinated in a sweet soy-mirin sauce called tare. The skewered meat is then grilled over hot charcoal then served in portions of two skewers. So yes, order a few rounds at one go.
Where to find it: Vietnam
What is it? Pho is now popular all over the world, but you ain’t never had pho this good outside of Vietnam (we’ve searched far and wide). It’s easy enough a dish to recreate — noodles, chicken or beef, and green onion, Thai basil, lime and cut-chili for garnish. Where Vietnam gets it right, is the perfect broth made by simmering bones and tendons with charred onion, ginger, spices and seasonings. It takes hours to get the taste just right.