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The Best Street Food From Around the World

Prepare to be hungry...

Never beaten on price
Cover image: Tim Lucas under Creative Commons license.

When buying street food anywhere abroad, look out for the popular stalls frequented by the locals. Not only is this an indicator of quality, but the fast-moving trade will help ensure your snack is fresh and hygienic. You might have to queue a little longer for your tacos, kebabs, sausages or noodles, but your tummy may well thank you later!

Churros in Spain

If you’re feeling peckish after a busy day shopping in Madrid, partying in Bilbao or even lying on the beach on the Costa del Sol, there’s only one sweet treat from the street that will satisfy – a fistful of churros. Delicious star-shaped strings of fried dough, similar to a doughnut but somehow much lighter and tastier, churros are often dipped into or drizzled with hot chocolate and make a great mid-morning snack or late night pick-me-up. Variations on the highly addictive pastries can be found in Portugal, Brazil, Chile and Mexico, where they’re often filled with sticky-sweet dulce de leche.

Spices in India

You can pick up lots of familiar finger foods at chaat stalls all around the Indian subcontinent – samosas, pakoras, and fried rounds of aloo tikki – but the best street food of all is identified with the streets around Chowpatty Beach in Bombay. Bhel puri is a mouthwatering combination of puffed rice and crunchy noodles mixed with potatoes, onions and tomatoes and topped with a tangy tamarind sauce. Bhel puri can be found in restaurants as a starter, but it’s best consumed fresh from a newspaper cone while overlooking the city from the Hanging Gardens.

Noodles in Thailand

Pad thai noodles

Bangkok is famous for its street food scene – you could stay here for a fortnight and never set foot in a restaurant. Many Thai street dishes revolve around stir frying, like the popular pad thai, or the charmingly-named pad kee mao or “drunken noodles”. This dish uses flat rice noodles with seafood or tofu and plenty of chillies – some think the dish (which contains no alcohol) is so-named because it’s so spicy you need a drink of cool beer to go with it!

Tamales in Mexico

One of Central America’s favourite comfort foods, the tamale is also one of the world’s oldest, with a history that dates back to the Mayan empire. A steamed snack of pork or chicken wrapped in a corn-flour dough and steamed in a banana-leaf wrapper. Tamales are cooked in large batches inside huge steaming pots, and are a popular lunch-on-the-go throughout the year as well as being a staple of Mexican festivals from Christmas to The Day of the Dead. Vegetarians should look out for cheese-filled tamales con queso.

Pho in Vietnam

Image: Laughlin Elkind under Creative Commons license.

Every visitor to Vietnam finds their own favourite stall selling pho, the aromatic clear-broth soup with noodles and meat. Originating in Northern Vietnam as a breakfast food, the dish grew in popularity in South Vietnam the 1950s and is today recognised as an important national cuisine. Pho is most commonly prepared with beef but can be made with chicken; aniseed and coriander give the dish its distinctive, spicy-sweet flavour. Several stalls in Ho Chi Minh City vie for the title of “Best Pho in Vietnam” – but you might find your personal favourite comes from a pop-up shack with no name.

Poutine in Canada

If you’ve been trekking in the Yukon, skiing in the Rockies or ice fishing in the lakes, you need an injection of hot, tasty calories – and that’s exactly what poutine is. Originally a Quebecoise speciality, this dish of crisp-fried potato chips, melted cheese curds and thick gravy is now found all over the Big Country, and can be picked up at roadside potato shacks or cabanes à patates. There’s absolutely nothing healthy about poutine, but if it’s -20 degrees outside and you need an energy boost, this savoury dish will give you one to write home about.

Image: Dennis Yang under Creative Commons license.

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Written by Lise Smith, a former contributor to Lonely Planet's India guidebook - she's seen her fair share of hotel rooms (both grotty and glamorous!). She learned to walk in a hotel corridor in Tunisia, and at the age of three had been on more aeroplanes than buses. Lise writes for a number of local news, technology and arts publications.

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