Amazing Street Food Around the World
In the earliest days of civilization, vendors offered cooked snacks and treats on the crowded streets of cities in Greece and Rome. It started as a way to serve poor residents who didn't have kitchens, creating the notion of street food as pheasant food that has endured for centuries.
But make no mistake: While street food remains cheap and accessible to the masses, it's anything but boring. Across the globe, travelers can delve deeper into a culture by sampling sweet and savory staples that are full of flavor.
Eat on the run, grab a bench in a park or squat on a curb as you enjoy the popular street foods highlighted here. Your tastebuds will thank you!
French Quebec's poutine — salty gravy poured over French fries and served with cheese curds — is like mashed potatoes in stick form, and even better than that sounds.
There are disputed claims as to who originally came up with poutine, a slang word for a "mess," but in any case, it's a must-try if you are in Montreal or Quebec. (Pro tip: It's pronounced "poo-tin.")
Residents swear the dish makes for a perfect late-night meal, as well as a hangover cure the day after a night on the town.
Czech Republic: Trdelnik
This warm and decadent cake is rolled in sugar, cinnamon and crushed walnuts, then grilled over coal to caramelize the sugar.
Stalls around Prague sell these "chimney cakes" that locals call "trdelnik." They can also be found in Hungary (where they're called "kurtoskalacs"), Germany ("baumkuchen"), Austria ("Prugelkrapfen"), Romania ("kurtos kalacs") and Slovakia ("skalický trdelník").
In any country and no matter the name, they're sublime.
These bread-like dumplings readily found along the streets of China are filled with meats or vegetables. Also called bao buns, the pockets of wheat were created in Northern China, where more wheat than rice is grown.
Meaning "little bag," baozi is mainly a breakfast food, although it may be eaten throughout the day. We won't judge.
Most commonly called a pita in Western cultures, khubz, or Arabic bread, dates back to the 10th century. The lightly leavened bread begins flat, but is cooked at such high temperatures that it puffs up.
The bread is often paired with meats, vegetables and spreads as a tasty snack.
Germany is known for its sausages, and on the streets of Munich and Cologne you will find one of the best sausage dishes around: currywurst. This grilled bratwurst is sliced into bite-sized pieces before getting drenched in curry.
The dish is credited to post-war occupied Berlin. Back then, soldiers from America would pour ketchup on their sausages, while the British used curry. Just like that, a food legend was born.
Crepes can serve as heavenly treats or savory meals, depending on the fillings. Chocolate and hazelnut spreads are popular, but you can also keep things simple with butter or jam, or go for ham, cheese, eggs, you name it.
We dare you to pass by a crepe stand — where a chef spreads the dough, then tops it with the filling of your choice — without stopping. Better yet, these thin pancakes are wrapped right up so you can easily take them with you as you stroll through Paris.
India: Chole Bhature
Originating from northern India in the Punjabi culture, this breakfast dish is made of spiced chickpeas (chana masala) and fried bread (bhatura).
In addition to being a morning staple, the dish is commonly sold by street vendors, who add ingredients like carrots, pickles, onions and chutney.
When ground chickpeas are mixed with a variety of herbs, spices and onion, then deep-fried into a patty or ball, the result is magic. While excellent on their own, falafels really shine when they're served inside a pita with lettuce, tomato and tahini (as shown here).
Considered the national dish of Israel, it's believed the falafel actually likely originated in ancient Egypt.
Ask any person who has visited Italy about the gelato and you'll surely receive a sigh of pleasure.
Likely dating back to the 16th century in Florence, this is not ice cream. As aficionados will be happy to point out, gelato is made with less milk and sugar, and has more flavor, than its creamier cousin.
The most difficult decision when it comes to gelato is choosing a flavor. Cherry? Pistachio? Chocolate? Why not try a different one each day?
Jamaica: Jerk Chicken
Native to Jamaica, the "Jerk" style of cooking is not limited to just chicken. Pork, seafood, chicken and even vegetables can be slathered in a marinade with spices and Scotch bonnet peppers, then cooked over green pimento wood.
But for our money, Jerk chicken, often served with rice and beans, is the best option for a street-food indulgence.
Note: These marshmallow-looking sweets popular in Japan are definitely not S'mores. The sugared dumplings of rice flour can be grilled, steamed or poached, and are typically served with green tea.
Similar to mochi, which is made from rice rather than rice flour, dango may be served with soy sauce. Make sure to try a tri-colored dango skewer, which combines a pink dumpling made with red beans, a yellow dumpling made with eggs and a green dumpling made with green tea.
These Swahili golden doughnuts are made with coconut milk and mixed with sugar, flour, yeast and cardamom spice. Served room temperature in triangular shapes, the doughnuts are eaten as a snack or covered in powdered sugar or cinnamon sugar, creating the perfect after-dinner treat.
Mahamri is found throughout the African Lakes coastal region, including Tanzania and Uganda as well.
Malaysia: Roti canai
Another flatbread that is a must-try can be found throughout Southeast Asia, particularly on the streets of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Made with flour, milk and sugar, the dough is tossed into the air by street vendors to get it as light and flattened as possible before cooking.
Served warm, roti canai is often eaten with dahl, a savory red lentil stew.
Mexico: Tacos al Pastor
A product of central Mexico that actually originated in Lebanon, al pastor is pork shoulder grilled on a shawarma spit. Similar to a Turkish kebab, the meat is pulled and served with pineapple juice, grilled pineapple, onions and cilantro in a corn tortilla.
Al pastor means "shepherd style," but you'll find these street tacos in the heart of Mexico's cities too.
Take tiny, sweet pancakes made of the same buckwheat flour used in neighboring France's crepes, then top them with powdered sugar and butter, as well as melted chocolate, berries or ice cream, and you have this Dutch dessert that will have you leaving Amsterdam a few pounds heavier.
Pofferjes, aptly named for the way they "puff" when cooking, began as street food in the early 19th century and remain popular on Holland streets today.
New York: Pretzel
Practically sold on every street corner in New York City, oversized soft pretzels have been a staple since arriving on the scene in the 1820s. Although American pretzels truly got their start in German immigrant-filled Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the 1700s, it's New York City that owns this street food today.
Top a warm pretzel with yellow mustard and skip any gourmet-style offerings you see — true New Yorkers stick with the original.
In West Africa, as well as across the Atlantic in Brazil, these fried snacks are made of black-eyed peas. Served hot with simple salt, pepper and onions as seasoning, the fritters are commonly found on the streets of Nigeria, Ghana, Togo and Mali.
Similar snacks include yam fritters ("ojojo"), bean and melon seed fritters ("akara seke-pu"), plantains ("mosa") and rice ("hausa masa"). All can be eaten with a variety of dipping sauces.
An Andean dish, humita are steamed corn cakes made with ground corn, eggs, cream, cheese and garlic. The cakes are cooked inside the husks of the corn, a traditional method of preparation that dates back to when they were first made by indigenous people in the area.
You may also sample this corn tamale in Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. Sometimes additional flavors, such as sweet basil in Chile, are added.
The Filipino version of shave ice is a mixture of crushed ice and evaporated milk. Different flavors are available with the addition of sweetened beans, fruits and coconut.
This sweet treat may be a safer bet than the also-popular balut street food — a boiled duck egg with a bird embryo inside that is eaten straight from the shell.
Portugal: Pastel de Nata
This tart is deceptively simple: Egg yolks are mixed with milk and vanilla, poured into a puff pastry, baked, then topped with cinnamon or powdered sugar. You'll almost certainly want to buy more than one — and eat them fast. They are best straight from the oven!
Before ordering this dish, it's important to know that there are actually two versions that you'll come across, pastel de nata and pastel de belem. They're essentially the same, but the Portuguese have their favorites and will tell you which they prefer with fervor.
Spain: Churros and Chocolate Caliente
Light and airy cinnamon-sprinkled pastries, churros can be eaten alone or dipped into Spanish "hot chocolate."
This combination was first introduced in Madrid in the late 1800s, and you can still taste the original recipe at Chocolateria San Gines. The pairing is, in a word, divine.
South Korea: Twigim
If all the sweets and fried foods sold by street vendors make you crave something healthy, sample these snacks in Korea. Twigim are crispy vegetables and shrimp battered in a light batter and (sorry) fried. (But at least they are vegetables!)
Actually, twigim is really about the method of cooking. As with tempura in Japan, twigim can be used on practically everything, including squid and rice cakes.
Yes, Sweden is home to a popular hot dog dish.
Tunnbrödsrullen features a hot dog or sausage, mashed potatoes and salad rolled inside a thin flatbread known as tunnbröd — it's an entire meal literally rolled into one!
If you think it sounds horrible, know that Anthony Bourdain once called it "the most disgusting thing ever... and I love it."
Thailand: Pad See Ew
Meaning "fried soy sauce," pad see ew is Thai stir-fried noodles made with flank steak or chicken thighs and drowned in soy sauce, dark soy sauce and oyster sauce. The dish is not spicy and is often much sweeter than pad thai, typically containing a bit of sugar.
You will find a similar stir fry called char kway teow in Malaysia and Singapore.
Turkey: Doner Kebab
Think you can walk the streets of Istanbul without walking into a doner kebab stand? Good luck! Meat cooked on a rotating vertical spit known as a doner is shaved and placed into pitas with lettuce, tomato and onion, then served with a yogurt or hot sauce.
Choose from veal, chicken, pork or beef, similar to a Greek gyro. You really can't go wrong.