Food, glorious food goes the song from the famous musical. I’m a bit of a foodie, I love cooking as well as trying out all sorts of tasty treats. Some strange ones too – anyone for still beating snake heart?!
One of my favourite things about travelling is trying new and interesting culinary delights. Some people may think this is a problem, typically being a budget traveller and all but it really isn’t. I still believe some of the best food I’ve ever eaten has come from street vendors so I thought I’d go through some of my favourites!
Istanbul – Fish Sandwich – Balik Ekmet
The Galata Bridge in Istanbul is a lively place with hoards of fisherman on the bridge itself trying their luck for the catch of the day, boats busily crossing the Bosphorus taking people between the European an Asian sides of the city along with other people mingling, shopping and going about their business. My favourite thing about this area is the food. Stall vendors shout “Balik Ekmet”, effectively meaning fish inside bread. Fresh fish is quickly grilled and served up with fresh onions inside a crispy but soft baguette. It’s tasty, cheap and served up in one the most atmospheric places you will find.
China – Virtually Everything!
Prince Philip, in his uniquely brilliant way once famous said:
“If it has four legs and is not a chair, wings but is not an aeroplane and swims and is not a submarine, the Cantonese will eat it.”
He’s actually making a good point, the vast variety of food consumed in China is immense. My best experience comes from taking part in the Study China programme a few years ago. Upon leaving the hotel and heading to class where we were to learn Mandarin, we would cross a street set up with tens of food stalls. By lunchtime the street would be full of life, the scent of so many different foods almost a pungent attack on the senses. Over a couple of weeks I attempted to try as much of this as possible as well as other street food in other parts of Shanghai.
I quickly found myself eating grilled goat, jiaozi dumplings (fantastic parcels filled with meat and soup – watch out for the spray when taking a bite!), Uighur kebabs, sushi, fried noodles and other items which I have not idea what they were to this day!
All of this food is incredibly cheap, intensely tasty and exciting to try. Of course there are some pitfalls along the way, ‘Stinky Tofu‘ and ‘thousand year old egg‘ are not for the faint hearted!
Vietnam – Bia Hoi
Ok so this isn’t strictly street food but it’s one of my favourite things ever from a street vendor. Bia Hoi is Vietnam’s contribution to the world of brewing, it’s a freshly brewed lager and distributed daily to outlets all over the cities. The brew itself only lasts around 24 hours and has clean, refreshing taste that can vary from day to day and brew to brew.
I think I'd had a few at this point.....
A glass will vary in size and price but typically costs around 15 pence (that’s about 25 cents to those who work in American). After a hot and humid day in Vietnam, this is just about the best way to relax and watch the world go by.
Calcutta – Jhall Muri (Bhel Puri)
There’s a tonne of good food in India (ok I admit some of it might give you a bit of Delhi belly) but my favourite was found late at night down a tiny little back street street in Calcutta courtesy of a friend.
Learn while you eat!
Jhall Muri, more typically know as Bhel Puri is a kind of puffed rice snack with vegetables and a tamarind sauce. There’s various spices thrown in along with some chutneys giving it a pleasantly spicy flavour. Typically it’s served up in a paper cone, though in my case an old accountancy textbook! Just a bit weird as I was working as an accountant at the time.
Something from London – The Ribman!
There’s something pretty dull about when you’re back in your home country and the typical office lunch in Pret a Manger, I’m really not a fan. When I’m working I really need a break from the office midway through the day for something different. Well I’m pretty lucky because around the corner from my office I have Eat St. Wednesday through Friday a host of different vendors serving anything from Indian style burger wraps to Vietnamese Banh Mi and Mexican Burritos descend in the middle of a building site between King’s Cross and St Pancras stations.
The best of these has to be “The Ribman”. Serving up soft, succulent pork ribs pulled off the bone and put in a roll or a wrap it is simply amazing. To top it off, it is served with barbecue sauce Texans would be jealous of as well as his own special “Holy Fuck” sauce. It pretty much does as it says on the tin, packed with the hottest Scotch Bonnet and Naga chillies it really does make you say “Holy Fuck that’s hot!”
For any Londoners, I strongly recommend a visit. Thursday is rib day! It’s one thing I’m going to miss when I go travelling.
The above is by no means an exclusive list of the best street food, just some of my favourites, leave a comment with your best suggestions. I’ll keep you posted with the best street food I come across in Cuba, Canada, Central & South America!