In this extract from Lonely Planet’s The World’s Best Street Food, we bring you the pick of street eats across the globe. Plus foodie Richard Johnson tells you where to find them in the UK
What is it? This comforting noodle soup exemplifies the earthy flavours of the country’s cuisine. It is fish broth thickened with rice or bean powder, and typically containing a combination of shallots, the crunchy edible core of the banana tree, thin round rice noodles and chopped coriander.
Origin Mohinga is made from almost exclusively indigenous ingredients, suggesting that the dish has native origins; most south-east Asian noodle dishes can be traced back toChina.
Tasting Mohinga is sold in just about every town inBurma, typically from mobile carts and baskets, or basic open-fronted restaurants. Mohinga vendors are most prevalent in the morning. Ordering is simple, as the only optional ingredient is akyaw (crispy fritters of lentils or vegetables). The thick broth has flakes of freshwater fish (typically snakehead fish), a yellow/orange hue due to the addition of turmeric, and a light herbal flavour, thanks to the use of lemongrass.
Finding it in Burma … If you’re in Rangoon, head to Myaung Mya Daw Cho (118A, New Yae Tar She Lane, Bahan Township) where a bowl will set you back K5 (50p).
And in theUK… There is noBurmese streetfood in theUK. TheMandalay(mandalayway.com/restaurant/index.html) is a Burmese restaurant onLondon’sEdgware Road. Its fritters and ohn no khao swe (coconut chicken noodles) are pretty authentic. Mohinga is on the menu, spelt mokhingar.
Banh mi, Vietnam
What is it? A little-known secret is that the world’s best sandwich isn’t found inRome,Copenhagenor evenNew York City, but on the streets ofVietnam. It begins with a light baguette grilled over coals. After a smear of mayonnaise and a dollop of pâté, the crispy shell is filled with meat, crunchy pickled vegetables and fresh herbs. It is then typically seasoned with a few drops of soy sauce and a spicy chilli condiment.
Origin An early example of fusion food, banh mi shows an obvious link with the French, rulers ofVietnamin the early 20th century. Other ingredients, including xa xiu, the barbecued pork better known as char siu, have Chinese origins, while the herbs and seasonings are distinctively south-east Asian.
Tasting Banh mi is the epitome of street food: the sandwiches are sold almost exclusively from stalls and vendors. Seating usually takes the form of tiny plastic stools, and the sandwiches are generally served to go, wrapped in recycled paper. Pâté? Meatballs or grilled pork? Chilli? Mayonnaise? Diners choose their meats, toppings and condiments. A collection of the best of south-east Asian cuisine in a western package.
Finding it in Vietnam… If you’re in the coastal city of Hoi An, head to Phuong on Hoang Dieu, a legendary banh mi stall where a sandwich costs 15,000 dong (about 45p)
And in the UK… Anh and Van, two schoolfriends fromHanoi, came up with the name Banhmi11 because, in their mind, the perfect banh mi is 11 bites big. They make everything from scratch, even pickling their own daikon. They now trade inLondon’s Broadway market (banhmi11.com).
Daulat ki chaat, Delhi, India
What is it? This sweet, delightful treat is as light as air and as heavenly as moonlight. Sweetened, whisked milk is decorated with saffron, giving it an appealing orange-and-white tint. On to this is sometimes added a layer of edible silver leaf called varq. Although it’s little more than insubstantial froth, it has a unique taste. It’s a popularOld Delhi streetsnack in winter.
Origin It’s possible that Mughal emperors were among the first to savour this treat.
Tasting The first taste imparts a hint of butter, then the tongue detects the subtle flavour of saffron, followed by the pistachios, unrefined sugar and dried condensed milk sprinkled on top. The initial impression soon fades to leave behind a hint of creamy sweetness. It’s a touch of the divine, a contrast with the noisy bustle of the bazaars where it’s usually found. Because daulat ki chaat would collapse in high temperatures, it’s only prepared in the cooler months.
Finding it in Delhi… There are usually one or two vendors in the Kinari Bazaar near Chandni Chowk metro station. A serving costs R10 (12p).
And in the UK… Manjit from caterer Manjit’s Kitchen (manjitskitchen.com) inLeedssays: “It really needs buffalo milk to get it going, which takes hours to froth up.” Refrigeration rules here make it difficult to sell on the street, but Manjit is happy making it for clients at home.
Phat Kaphrao, Thailand
What is it? Phat kaphrao may not get the instant recognition of, say, pad Thai, but this spicy, herby, meaty stir-fry is the go-to one-dish meal for many Thais. Kaphrao means holy basil, the essential ingredient in this stir-fried dish. The leaves are fried with minced pork, chicken or seafood, along with chopped garlic, chillies and, sometimes, chopped long bean. The dish is seasoned with fish sauce and a pinch of sugar, served over rice and usually crowned with a fried egg.
Origin This dish is a relatively recent introduction to Thai cuisine, although holy basil has probably been used here for centuries. It has long been a sacred plant among Hindus.
Tasting Unlike with otherThai streetdishes, there generally aren’t vendors who specialise only in phat kaphrao. The dish is typically found at raan ahaan taam sang (made-to-order) carts, stalls and restaurants, which do a variety of dishes and are recognised by a tray or case of raw ingredients. Phat kaphrao is always served with a small bowl of finely sliced chillies in fish sauce and sometimes a squeeze of lime – the Thai equivalent of the salt shaker.
Finding it inThailand… Any raan ahaan taam sang will serve phat kaphrao, from 30-50 baht (60p-£1).
And in the UK… Jackie Kearney, MasterChef 2011 finalist and founder of thehungrygecko.com inManchester, is vegetarian. “InBangkokyou see holy basil with pork or chicken mostly (moo or gai). For a veggie version, I’d use mushrooms and/or tofu.”
What is it? Crisp yet moist, hearty yet subtly spiced, burek is the Balkan street food. Filo pastry is filled with aromatic minced meat, spinach (zeljanica), or cheese and herbs (sirnica), then rolled, glossed with butter or olive oil and baked till golden. Burek can be eaten at any hour: for breakfast accompanied by black tea, or after a busy night in the bars ofSarajevo’s Bašcaršija district.
Origin Burek originates inTurkey, where it is called börek, from Turkish burmak (to twist).
Tasting Though burek can be eaten hot or cold, it’s best straight from the oven. The pastry will be nicely flaky on the outside, but on the inside it should be tender, with the consistency of perfectly cooked pasta. InBosniait is cooked in great spirals, in round baking trays. Choose your variety and the baker will slice it with a pizza cutter and wrap it in butcher’s paper for you.
Finding it In Sarajevo, bakeries (pèkare) sell burek by weight. Expect to pay around 3MK-5MK (£1.30-£2.15) for a good serving.
And in the UK… Kada from Moorish Feasts (moorishcatering.co.uk) inLeedsmakes a version of burek, wrapping two layers of filo round goat’s cheese and lamb merguez. He serves it with chakchouka, a red pepper sauce pepped up with cinnamon.
What is it? As croissants are to the French, so are sfenj to Moroccans. They are uniquely spongy, deep-fried pastry rings made of unsweetened, sticky yeast dough, with no milk or butter added. They are noshed as a morning treat, then again in late afternoon.
Origin Believed to have been imported by Arabs in the 18th century, sfenj were originally available from stands selling roasted lamb’s head (a traditional breakfast dish) in the souks.
Tasting Amid the eye-popping and energy-sapping commotion ofMorocco’s labyrinthine medinas, sfenj are a perfect boost. They should always be ordered fresh – you’ll be able to witness their preparation. Sfenj can be hard to get right. The eating, though, is gratifyingly easy: when sweetly garnished, sfenj are light confections of which just one is rarely enough.
Finding it The best sfenj are prepared in hanout (closet-sized booths) in the medinas of Morocco’s biggest cities, where they sell for 1 dirham (7p) each or 23 dirham (£1.75) a kilo.
And in the UK… Kada of Moorish Feasts (as above) was voted Best Caterer at Glastonbury for his sfenj. “I remember hot summer days on the beach inAlgeriaand some little kid walking along the hot sand selling sfenj and mint tea for a few dinars.” Kada adds lemon or orange zest to the sugar, and nigella seeds for authenticity.
Walkie-talkies, South Africa
What is it? Walkie-talkies are the feet (walkies) and heads (talkies) of chickens. They are boiled together to facilitate the removal of chewier bits, then the pieces are seasoned and cooked according to taste.
Origin During apartheid, wealthy farmers favoured the meatiest parts of the chicken. Leftovers – such as heads and feet – were given to workers and people in the townships.
Tasting Township markets are always a wonder of sights, sounds and smells. Some walkie-talkies are boiled, with added salt and spices; others are stewed with onions, green peppers and tomatoes; lately, they are grilled, too. You stick the feet in your mouth toes first, and scrape the skin and meat off with your teeth. The rest can be chewed up for the bone marrow. It takes a bit of determined crunching, but not as much as for the head, which is eaten whole (minus beak).
Finding it Although best known at stalls by inner-city taxi ranks and in the townships of Durban and Soweto, walkie-talkies are sold countrywide for about 10 rand (85p) a kilo.
And in the UK… Hazvineyi Mapungwana of Shekinah African Food (shekinahafricanfood.co.uk) in Keighley, West Yorkshire, serves walkie-talkies with sadza (cornmeal) because she’s fromZimbabwe. “InSouth Africathey eat them with pap [maize porridge]. The heads and feet can either be dry-fried, with salt and pepper, or served in a stew.”
What is it? Breakfast bliss or twilight snack, these steamed, corn-husk-clad delights are pure comfort food, in sweet savoury, spicy or bland versions.Pork or chicken with salsa or mole are the most popular, along with poblano chillies and cheese. The package is wrapped in corn husks or banana leaf and steamed until soft and seductive.
Origin Found all over Central andSouth America, tamales were a staple for Aztecs, Mayans and Incas.
Tasting Look for vast steel containers leaking steam on pretty much every street corner. This is a snack for even the most cautious gastronaut, as all the steaming makes for a safe mouthful. The fillings are bit parts compared with the steamed dough itself, which should sing of maize, with a texture that subtly succumbs to the bite.
Finding it Tamales Especiales inCoyoacán,MexicoCity (Centenario 180, Col. del Carmen) is a member of the Mexican Slow Food movement. It offers takeaways during the week, with tables in the garden on Saturday and Sunday nights. Tamales will set you back 10-15 pesos each (50p-75p).
And in the UK… Roland fromLondon’s Flaming Cactus (flamingcactus.co.uk) is trialling chicken tamales at festivals this summer. He’s relaxed about ingredients (“tamales are borne of poverty”), but will serve them with sauce made from tomatillos – green tomatoes with a sharp citrus flavour.
Red red, Ghana
What is it? Hot, sweet and spicy, red red pairs beans with fried plantains and zomi (red palm oil). The key to red red is one of the reds: zomi has a rich, nutty taste. Onions and (red) chilli are fried in zomi and added to black-eyed peas, then topped with more zomi and gari (fermented dried cassava powder). Plantains (koko, also red), sliced, salted and deep-fried, accompany the beans.
Origin Everyone loves red red, but it’s a favourite of the Ewe group from eastern Ghana and Togo. Beans are an inexpensive protein, which makes red redGhana’s national cheap lunch.
Tasting Red red’s natural habitat is lunch shacks and roadside stands. If you wait near other diners, you’ll hear “You are invited!” – the traditional offering to share food. The red red is hot and the oil on the plantains still sizzling when it is served, maybe on a dried plantain leaf. The beans are soft and salty and the plantains soft and sweet with crispy edges.
Finding it Red red is good everywhere, but in the Community 12 region of Tema in Greater Accra, it’s extraordinary. A light-lunch portion costs one cedi (40p).
And in the UK … Adwoa Hagan-Mensah of jollofpot.co.uk in London has seen red red in Ghana cooked with snail, goat, even bushrat. But inLondon, she says, they have “simplified the dish by making it vegan, with no palm oil”.
What is it? Currywurst transforms sausage, chopped and doused in a spicy tomato sauce, into night-time nirvana. Some favour a sauce with Indian spicing; others prefer pure chilli heat. Then there’s the choice of chips, white bread or wholegrain roll …
Origin In 1949 whenBerlinlay in ruins, a woman called Herta Heuwer got hold of some English curry power, added it to a tomato sauce and slathered it over chopped sausage. Her stall, near what became the red-light district, was popular with builders and labourers.
Tasting It’s been a long night. As you stumble home, you make out a beacon of red neon light. The queues are long and rowdy, but with no hint of aggression. You shuffle forward, mumble your order and proceed to lean against a bright red Coca-Cola table. In the cardboard carton are two sausages, chopped up and smothered in mildly spicy tomato sauce. You stagger home happy, then return to see what it tastes like when sober. It’s every bit as good.
Finding it Currywurst 36, at Mehringdamm 36 inBerlin, may be a tourist mecca, but the Currywurst is damned good. Expect to pay €2 to €3.50 throughoutBerlin.
And in the UK… Currywurst is often considered German junk food. But Babushkas (babushkasonline.com) in Cheadle, southManchester, serves a healthy version. High meat-content grilled bratwurst is served on roasted potatoes with a home-made curry sauce rich in tomato, topped with fresh parsley and, for those who like it hot, chilli flakes or cayenne pepper.
If you would like to try Banh Mi and another delicious street food in Vietnam, traveling is a good way to do that. Please contact us to customize a tour package and explore Vietnam cuisine with us.