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Street food is going gourmet. From New York to Saigon, here are the can’t-miss options.


It’s 3 a.m.
You’re walking home from a night out with friends when something stops you: the
irresistible smell of spicy fried meat and onions emanating from a brightly lit
kebab truck parked by the side of the road. This is no hot dog cart. It’s a
little slice of heaven.

As any
late-night reveler or hungry commuter will tell you, there’s nothing quite like
the (cheap) culinary thrill of lining up at a food cart or stall as a sidewalk
maestro rustles up something steaming and delicious to go. And as street food
undergoes something of a renaissance, especially in the U.S., it’s possible to unearth amazing roadside finds that are worth a detour.

Street food has
a long history—in Pompeii, you’ll find remains of snack shops with painted menu
items on the walls. Today, it’s extremely popular: the U.N. estimates that some
2.5 billion people eat street food every day.

It seems that
number is only growing. In cities like New York, San Francisco,
and Portland,
OR
, street food has risen to the level of cult obsession, revered by the
world’s greatest chefs and blogged about by devotees as they track the location
of their favorite trucks on Twitter. New York even has the Vendy Awards, an
annual competition for the best street food vendor.

And this street
food is—in some cases—incredibly good. The best street food is not just a hasty
snack, but a slice of the culture from which it originates. Take, for example,
pho, the deliciously herbaceous noodle broth found all over Vietnam. “The street-side stalls in Hanoi are amazing,” enthuses
David Myers of California restaurants Comme Ça, Sona,
and Pizzeria
Ortica
. “The clean, light, and pure flavors remind you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Erica Wides, a
chef-instructor at New York’s Institute
of Culinary Education
who’s also known as Chef Smartypants, explains why
Asia is the source of so much beloved street food—some of which has made the
transition into fine dining. “A lot of street foods originate in cultures with
open-air dining, like Southeast Asia’s night markets,” she says. “It becomes a
social activity for people, to shop, snack, and catch up. In Japan, sushi was
originally a fast food snack for fishmongers, an easy, portable snack they
could finish in a few bites.”

But street foods
respect no boundaries, crossing continents and borders with impunity. How else
to explain the proliferation of ethnic food carts in Portland, OR, for
instance, where the number of carts is estimated to be around 550 by foodcartsportland.com, a site
dedicated to the city’s street food culture. Famished pavement pounders can
savor everything from Peruvian snacks to Korean kimchi to delicate onigiri,
nori-wrapped rice balls with pickled fillings from Todbott’s Triangles, a cart
on Alberta Street with a devoted following.

While many of
the world’s best street foods originated many oceans away, you don’t need a
passport to try all of them. Here’s the inside scoop on the best spots around
the globe to get your fast food fix. So hit the street and start snacking.

World's Most Delicious Street Foods 2010

Street food is going gourmet. From New York to Saigon, here are the can’t-miss options.


It’s 3 a.m.
You’re walking home from a night out with friends when something stops you: the
irresistible smell of spicy fried meat and onions emanating from a brightly lit
kebab truck parked by the side of the road. This is no hot dog cart. It’s a
little slice of heaven.

As any
late-night reveler or hungry commuter will tell you, there’s nothing quite like
the (cheap) culinary thrill of lining up at a food cart or stall as a sidewalk
maestro rustles up something steaming and delicious to go. And as street food
undergoes something of a renaissance, especially in the U.S., it’s possible to unearth amazing roadside finds that are worth a detour.

Street food has
a long history—in Pompeii, you’ll find remains of snack shops with painted menu
items on the walls. Today, it’s extremely popular: the U.N. estimates that some
2.5 billion people eat street food every day.

It seems that
number is only growing. In cities like New York, San Francisco,
and Portland,
OR
, street food has risen to the level of cult obsession, revered by the
world’s greatest chefs and blogged about by devotees as they track the location
of their favorite trucks on Twitter. New York even has the Vendy Awards, an
annual competition for the best street food vendor.

And this street
food is—in some cases—incredibly good. The best street food is not just a hasty
snack, but a slice of the culture from which it originates. Take, for example,
pho, the deliciously herbaceous noodle broth found all over Vietnam. “The street-side stalls in Hanoi are amazing,” enthuses
David Myers of California restaurants Comme Ça, Sona,
and Pizzeria
Ortica
. “The clean, light, and pure flavors remind you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.”

Erica Wides, a
chef-instructor at New York’s Institute
of Culinary Education
who’s also known as Chef Smartypants, explains why
Asia is the source of so much beloved street food—some of which has made the
transition into fine dining. “A lot of street foods originate in cultures with
open-air dining, like Southeast Asia’s night markets,” she says. “It becomes a
social activity for people, to shop, snack, and catch up. In Japan, sushi was
originally a fast food snack for fishmongers, an easy, portable snack they
could finish in a few bites.”

But street foods
respect no boundaries, crossing continents and borders with impunity. How else
to explain the proliferation of ethnic food carts in Portland, OR, for
instance, where the number of carts is estimated to be around 550 by foodcartsportland.com, a site
dedicated to the city’s street food culture. Famished pavement pounders can
savor everything from Peruvian snacks to Korean kimchi to delicate onigiri,
nori-wrapped rice balls with pickled fillings from Todbott’s Triangles, a cart
on Alberta Street with a devoted following.

While many of
the world’s best street foods originated many oceans away, you don’t need a
passport to try all of them. Here’s the inside scoop on the best spots around
the globe to get your fast food fix. So hit the street and start snacking.

Pep Roig/Alamy

World's Most Delicious Street Foods 2010

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