To travel is to be intrepid and adventurous, to see the city through the eyes of a local and eat with the palate of one, too. Besides, once you see the cheap eats, it'll be hard to resist the temptation: tacos unlike anywhere found north of the Mexican border; seasoned and slow-roasted lamb meat that practically melts off the bone; the pungent and perplexingly appetizing allure of Taiwanese staple, stinky tofu. So come along, adventurous eaters, and see what the world has to offer.
Select Turkish dishes have made their way around the western world in the form of doner kebab stalls or seran-wrapped baklava on the side of cash registers of late-night fast food, but the well of delectable grab-and-go eating options runs deep through the labyrinthine indoor markets and narrow streets of Istanbul. There are simits, which are Turkish pastries that look and taste like larger, more stretch out bagels, coated in sesame seeds with the option of cheese; lokma, a deep fried pastry similar to a churro but dipped in sugar syrup; dürüm, a warm flatbread sandwich filled with grilled lamb or chicken, parsley and chopped tomatoes, and the list of available stall foods continues.
One is never too far from good coffee or fast and accessible Puerto Rican fare in San Juan – whether on a beach in Isla Verde or in colorful Old San Juan. Beachside, visitors can help themselves to fresh alcapurrias, which are taro fritters mashed with green bananas filled with beef or fresh crab, coconut water right from the shell and bacalaitos, which are salted cod fish fritters. In Old San Juan, vendors and their customers occupy small streets with tables and chairs, sitting down for café con leche, fried plantains, and tico tripleta, a filling sandwich featuring grilled chicken, ham and beef before continuing their day through gorgeous colonial-era buildings.
Visitors to Marrakech swoop into the night-hawkers who set up stalls in the main city square, Jemaa el-Fnaa, after the sun goes down, forming a gorgeous open-air feast of food stalls, snake charmers, performers and more. Playing it safe means tucking into a kebab, shwarma, tagine or eggplant; while the adventurous can venture down Mechoui Alley, where a strip of vendors all serve lamb parts in unique and delicious ways. Feel like going in head first? Try the sheeps head with a slice of bread, savoring the meaty and tender cheek and eyeballs, or going for the special mechoui, fresh roasted premium cuts of sheep serve with cumin, salt, bread and mint tea.
Thailands capital is also the capital of the international street food scene. The famed Bangkok street hawkers dole out generous portions of pad Thai, mee phat kratchet (noodles fried with water mimosa served with squid, shrimp or prawns), khao man gai (chicken boiled in herbs with rice cooked in the chicken stock, pork satay brochettes, fried red curry with salted pork and more. The best thing about the hawker scene is that they're simply everywhere! No sidewalk square is without its street stall, especially at night, but those who go after the street meat vigorously always find themselves in either Chinatown, the U-shaped Soi Rambutri (otherwise known as Pad Thai Alley) or the incredible Saochingcha neighborhood near Bangkok City Hall.
Tel Aviv proves that variety truly is the spice of life, and judging by its abundance of spices inspired by Jewish, Arabian and Mediterranean cuisine, Tel Aviv has a lot of life. The Tel Aviv street scene is remarkably healthy, too, offering falafel (fried vegetable or chickpea balls in a flatbread pita with tahini, vegetables and spicy sauce), different flavors of hummus served with fresh flatbread, fresh and diverse olive oil, sabich (a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, egg and pickled cabbage), freshly squeezed pomegranate juice and kosher shawarma. Ibn Gvirol Street is full of falafel and shawarma hawkers, while Frishman Street offers great sabich. For a truly vast variety of spices and life, Carmel Market is where all the flavors come together.
The street scene in Taipei comes into full bloom at night, where Shilin, Ximending and Huaxi Street markets fill with hundreds of vendors selling small snacks in convenient handheld form. Much of the food is taken from the Mainland but accented by Taiwanese basil, star anise, pickled vegetables, white pepper and cilantro and all of them are delicious. There's sheng jian bao, which are small pork dumplings sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds; chou doufu, the famous stinky tofu that everybody loves to eat but hates to smell; gua bao, the original barbecued pork belly bun thats making its way around trendy restaurants in North America; cong you bing, flat, flaky scallion pancakes and douhua, a sweet, silky tofu dessert served on a bed of crushed ice and flavored with optional tapioca pearls, red bean or fruits.
Some things are worth the stomach discomfort. Though Mumbai's street food is known to upset Western constitutions, its hard to resist the tempting aroma of spices wafting from the hundreds of street food stalls positioned along the shores of Chowpatty Beach or in the Fort business district. There are meaty and veggie options aplenty, including spicy kebabs and chicken tikka rolls (a safe bet is Bademiya, located in various street markets, in Fort and at their family restaurant), and pani puri (tiny puffed bread filled with spices and vegetables mixed with chutney) and vada pav, a balled up potato battered in chickpea flour and deep fried, stuffed into a sandwich.
Penang, Malaysia, is known as a great city for meaty street foods, with dozens of huge hawker centers full of cheap eats that trace culinary lineages from all over Asia, accented with strong hints of spice and accented fresh mint, cilantro and pineapple. A great introduction to Penang flavors is through a bowl of assam laksa, a fiery soup with little touches of sweetness made with mackerel, tamarind, served with noodles and garnished with mint, shallots, cilantro, cucumbers and pineapple. There's tons of noodles available to try in broth, fried or tossed with wontons; as well as select curry options inspired by Indian cuisine. Street meat aficionados can spend days wandering around Little India and Chinatown in historic Georgetown and elsewhere over 7,000 licensed hawkers are open for business on this Malaysian Island.
Everybody knows how good tacos, burritos, tamales and quesadillas are, and certainly Mexico City is brimming with the real authentic goods, but there's so much beyond the horizon: meat lovers hit up the Centro Historico for tacos al pastor stuffed with achiote marinated pork, diced onion, cilantro and pineapple; or a torta, a Mexican sandwich with an enormous list of filling options (thin, breaded fried steak or pork, roasted pork leg, salt cod, chorizo, ham, sausage) topped with lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, beans, jalapeños, pineapple and more. Vegetarians and fresh fanatics go straight for the fruteros, fruit vendors, and jugueros, juice vendors, while compulsive snackers get their fill on roasted corn on the cob or sweet gorditas with a hint of cinnamon.
Singapore favors the hawker center over the simple streetside vendor, which means that the cheap eats are way safer, with more attention to hygiene regulations. Singapore is a well-known global city, reflected in their diverse offerings of Malaysian, Indian and Chinese hawker food. There's the deliciously messy chili crab, steamed in chili and tomato sauce and sopped up by toasted buns; as well as kaya toast, a thinly sliced toasted bread served with a spread made out of eggs, sugar and pandan-flavored coconut milk. Visitors can also delight in roti dipped in curry, hokkien mee (a Malaysian specialty), satay, and all kinds of spicy seafood. Find cheap Chinese eats at the Chinatown Food Centre; satays and seafood at Newton Circus Hawker Centre; Muslim food at Geylang Serai, and even more elsewhere all over the city.