Who needs to sit down to a gourmet meal when you can walk the neon-lit streets of Bangkok with a $1 pad Thai?
Why not give fine dining a miss and head to a street food market? Street foods are famously full of flavor where you’ll find yourself having an authentic experience, immersed in the culture. Plus, it’s perfect for a tight budget!
Asian street food markets are some of the most versatile in the world. From country to country, city to city, you’ll discover incredible food finds when eating where the locals eat. Whether you’re sipping on a bubble tea in Taipei’s Shilin Night Market, or channeling your inner Anthony Bourdain in Ho Chi Minh, you’re bound to find a few hidden gems.
So what makes ‘street food’? Generally, it’s quick, cheap, and easy to eat. So let’s take a look at these delicious treats to eat on the streets!
Highlights: Pad Thai, mango sticky rice, satay, Kai Jeow
Must-go-markets: Lumpini Park, Khao San Road, Liab Duan Night Market
A melting pot of culture, vibrancy, and flavor, Bangkok sets the perfect scene for a street food market. You’ll find yourself trying ten different dishes having barely made a dent in your wallet. And, what’s better, Thai street food is some of the best in the world!
A popular destination for tourists, Bangkok’s best dishes are on display, ready for foodies to devour. To start, you can’t go wrong with a good old Pad Thai. The cooks make it right in front of you, and the portions are massive.
If you’ve found more room to eat, you have to try satay. Pick up a few mouthwatering skewers of meat, normally chicken, beef, or pork. It’s a burst of flavor the moment it hits your mouth. It’s sweet, spicy, and zesty all on one stick.
If you’re looking for something sweet, find a stall that sells mango sticky rice. Think rice pudding, but a whole lot better. It’s a combination of coconut milk, sticky rice, and sweet ripe mango. If you’re lucky they’ll drizzle a little condensed milk and sprinkle a few sesame seeds on top.
Seoul, South Korea
Highlights: Tteokbokki, Gamja corn dog
Must-go-markets: Gwangjang Market, Myeongdong Street Food Alley, Tongin Market
You’ll find no shortage of street food markets in Seoul. The city is an open-air restaurant of sorts, and you’ll find a diverse range of cheap, interesting, and delectable foods.
Tteokbokki is one of the most famous Korean dishes. It’s rice cakes served with a spicy sauce and often has a couple of fish cakes or cheese sausages added. When eaten at a street food market, Tteokbokki’s served in a convenient cup and skewer for maximum convenience.
The exploration of the corndog has made leaps and bounds on the streets of Korea. It’s truly quite amazing what these vendors can do with a stick, sausage, and batter. The Korean corn dog, Gamja, is similar to the American corn dog but adds so much more. Cut-up french fries, sugar seasoning, and sauces drizzled over make it an epic adventure for the palate.
Top tip: In South Korea, it’s polite to use two hands when you hand over money. Thank you in most settings is 감사합니다 (gahm-sa-hab-ni-da).
Taipei City, Taiwan
Highlights: Bubble tea, Gau Bao, Taro Balls
Must-go-markets: Shilin Night Market, Ningxia Night Market, Shida Night Market
Taipei is a street food mecca, with night markets, food trucks, and stalls popping up when the sun goes down. From sweet to savory, there’s no shortage of options to try.
Gau Bao (pork belly buns), is a popular choice you’ll find at most markets. It’s a soft white bun packed with pork belly, veggies, ground peanuts, and a good amount of coriander. It’s small but very filling.
Although incredibly popular worldwide, bubble tea is said to have originated in Taiwan. If you haven’t tried it yet, it blends tea, milk, and fruit juice. The best part is the tasty tapioca pearls that burst with flavor.
Taro balls are a beloved dessert in Taiwan. It’s a unique dish made from mashed taro and sweet potato. It’s usually served with shaved ice and syrup to indulge your sugar cravings.
Top tip: If you have a peanut allergy, be cautious. A lot of Taiwanese dishes contain peanuts.
Highlights: Dango, onigiri, Kakiage
Must-go-markets: Tsukiji Fish Market, Ameyoko Market, Yanaka Ginza Shotengai
In the hustle and bustle of Tokyo, it can be difficult to track down the best street food markets. But you’ll find them in traditional neighborhoods and hidden away underneath shopping centers. It’s well worth the search to get a taste of Tokyo’s street food culinary scene.
A go-to is Kakiage. It’s a snack that combines onions, carrots, mushrooms, and green beans. It’s held together by a light and crispy tempura batter. The crunch on these Japanese fritters is unreal, and somehow they don’t taste oily at all!
When you walk past vendors you’re bound to see funny little balls on sticks. It’s Dango and it’s damn delicious. Dango is a Japanese dumpling made from rice flour, uruchi flour, and glutinous rice flour. They come in three different flavors, red bean, egg, and green tea. Usually, you can try one of each on the screwer.
A personal favorite of mine is Onigiri. It’s a cute rice snack wrapped in seaweed and shaped into a triangle. In the center, there’s usually fish or pickled vegetables of some kind. Onigiri is so popular that there are specific vending machines filled with these delectable little triangles.
Fun fact: If you were to place every vending machine side by side from Tokyo, it would reach the beaches of Hawaii!
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Highlights: Bánh mì, Bánh xèo, Vietnamese spring rolls (Gỏi cuốn), Phở, egg coffee
Must-go-markets: Bến Thành Market, Vĩnh Khánh Street, Quán Thúy Market
A key part of Vietnamese street food is the market experience itself. Small plastic tables and stools align along the streets. Sit and order amazing fresh foods. Cool down with a Huda, Vietnam’s popular local beer, as you watch endless motorbikes drive by.
Phở is a classic Vietnamese food and a daily staple for most locals. It’s a savory broth with thin slices of beef and rice noodles, topped off with crunchy greens and herbs. Again, pretty simple but a good bowl of Phở is just to die-Phở. It’s un-Phở-gettable. Ok, ok, enough puns!
Another great choice is a Bánh mì. Essentially they are Vietnamese sandwiches, blending Viet-french cuisine. It’s a crisp baguette that’s spread with pâté. Then there are layers of pickled vegetables, coriander, and sticky grilled meat (usually pork). It’s fusion food at its finest!
The article was written by Christine Fay Smith
“Christine is a freelance lifestyle writer. She focuses on interior and hospitality design. After graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, Christine has embraced her knowledge of the visual world. She mixes this with passion for culture and the exploration of visual experiences.”