If you want to get a real taste of a city then you’ve got to hit the streets.
Forget restaurants - this is where the everyday happens for locals eating on the go, and you can be pretty sure they’re going to insist that the fuel tastes good.
OK you have to use your common sense – look for the stalls that are popular, don’t eat the washed salad etc. but really: what's the price for gastronomic excitement? Live a little.
Every city has its street food thrills, but some more than others. Click through the gallery to see the ten places around the world you really need to chow down in, in 2016.
Filled with steaming fragrant tagines, spices and soft grain dishes, the stalls of Marakech’s main square, Djemaa el Fna seduce the senses after dark. Dodge past the hookah pipe smoke, hawkers, acrobats and snake charmers at this centuries-old market and you’ll find a labyrinth of food stalls and vendors doing lively sales routines.
Chow down on sizzling skewers of seasoned meats, ladles of harira, a rich lentil and chickpea soup, b’stilla, a flakey pastry pigeon pie, deep-fried potato balls and chebakia (sesame cookies). Look for busy stalls and take a seat – menus are in French and Arabic so you’ll usually have to point at what looks good…which is pretty much everything but the snail soup and sheep heads.
Peruvians may be famous for their ceviche, lime-marinated raw fish – and more dubiously cuy, deep-fried guinea pig - but it’s not all surf n' turf here. Capital Lima is a street food stewpot of Spanish, African, Chinese (known as Chifa) and Japanese cuisines and the results are taste-popping - from sanguiche de chicharron, a South American-style bacon butty to creole Anticuchos, beef heart sandwiches.
Other top nibbles include papas relleno, fried mashed potatoes with olives, egg and hamburger inside and chunos, small dried potatoes native to the Andes. Head for the Chabuca area near the Plaza de Armas for some of the best street chow – and don’t forget to add hot sauce to whatever you’re eating. If you’re fireproof then you’ll hit the scoville-scale jackpot with red ricotto sauce.
A good street food scene doesn’t need to be geographically authentic to be memorable – sometimes it’s just sheer enthusiasm that gets it on the list. And the US city of Portland in Oregon, has so embraced the idea of street food it’s become a way of life. Around 700 food carts round the city offer a global taste tour - as well as acting as a crucible for future restaurants, perfecting their menus in the street first under the scrutiny of Portland’s foodie hipsters.
Want melt-in-the-mouth lobster rolls, foie gras burgers, Mauritian curry, kimchi quesadillas or wood-fired pizza? No problem. Just look for the nearest pod of food carts – clustered together – and let your stomach lead the way to a world of excitement.
Italy invented the two best street foods going – pizza and ice cream. And for that alone it’s the Chanel of street food destinations; classic - then, now, forever. But if you want an update on the menu, then head to the island of Sicily.
Forget the big sit-down meals of Italian legend; here gastro goodies are takeaway, found Monday through Saturday at Palermo’s open air markets, where the food scene is dominated by family vendors that go back generations.
Bite into crisp arancina rice balls, melting chickpea and potato fritters and succulent cardoni, or artichoke thistle stalks. Finish with Sicilian dessert/sybaritic experience, cannoli – full of sweet, creamy ricotta cheese. Ciao sandwich boredom, this is la dolce vita.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Vietnamese street food isn’t all trendy bánh mì (baguette-style sandwiches with meat, pickled veg and herbs) and pho (rice or noodle broth), although the authentic versions are definitely reason to head to Ho Chi Minh City.
In the markets of this effervescent hotch potch of a city there’s a crucible of tastes rising up on the curling steam from grills and flat pans – and in the hanging baskets of vendors that patrol their wares along the sidewalks. From the udon-esque noodles of bánh canh cua to fired meat, turmeric-charged bánh xèo pancakes and stir-fried crabs with tamarind. Nguyen Thuong Hien Street and Le Van Tam Park are hot spots for some of the best street eats, while digesting the frenetic local buzz all around you.
Forget the Olympics, go for the food – in Brazil, street food trumps the restaurant scene, both in excitement and price. And with the country’s diverse heritage tastes from around the globe samba into a superb array of on-the-go food. The city revolves around the beach, and you’ll find some of the best eats from vendors here, wandering the sands.
Fill up on skewered shrimp, fried cheese, fresh fruit and black bean caldinho de feijão soup sold out of thermos flasks. Elsewhere – everywhere – hit the jackpot with Brazil's favourite snack pão de queijo, warm balls of cheese bread, succulent grilled meats and all things acai, the super-antioxidant fruit made into smoothies and favourite with local surfers looking for an energy boost.
Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico is no hip newcomer to street food – the culture of antojitos (“little cravings”) for sale on the streets here dates back to pre-Hispanic times, and there are thousands of stalls throughout the capital. Get a taste at Río Guadalquivir and Río Lerma with tacos al pastor (“shepherd style”) spit-roasted pork on a corn tortilla. Or head to the market at Avenida Sullivan for pambazos, chili-soaked bread rolls, filled with potatoes and chorizo, chili-laced mango juice and roasted grasshoppers.
While you’re here, also give in to the baked sweet potato vendors, who serenade you to try with piercing whistles as you walk by. Carpe diem; in Mexico stalls open early morning and close when they’ve sold out.
Come expecting doner kebab and you won’t be disappointed - Turkey's greatest export is that for a reason. But there's plenty more to street food than grilled meat in Turkey’s ancient capital and you can barely turn a corner without coming across a vendor or hole in the wall ‘büfe’.
If you want a foodie focus though, the Spice Market in Eminönü and Küçük Pazar are great bets for classic snack balik ekmek, sandwiches of grilled mackerel with onions and lemon, rice-stuffed mussels and thin-dough lahmacun spread with minced beef, lamb and peppers.
Don’t miss the addictive soft sesame simit bread, the Turkish go-to food to fill a hole at any time of the day or night.
Feel the warm, fuzzy love of carbs in Brussels, where street food doesn’t require a guidebook, just a willingness to sink your teeth into piping hot, thick cut chips (fries, don’t call them French here) smothered in mayo - or one of 40 riffs on that theme including mayo with tomato and peppers and spicy harissa mayo.
The biggest rush here though is from dense Belgian waffles (Gaufres de Bruxelles) covered in sugar if you want to eat them like a local. Or pile them with toppings from strawberries to chocolate spread. You’ll look like a tourist – but as your tastebuds reel with with feel-good, you probably won’t care.
It might not have quite the street food theatre of Southeast Asia, but sturdy Polish street food is still up there on the list of tastes you never knew you needed to discover. A stroll through Warsaw’s stare miasto (old town) not only offers up the city’s loveliest square full of neoclassical and Baroque architecture - but also hearty hand-held treats from vendor carts dotted all around.
Try blood-red kiełbasa sausage, oscypek cheese and spongey precle (pretzels) or Poland’s ‘national soup’, Zurek, swimming with sausage and egg – all best enjoyed while breathing out clouds of cold winter breath. Perogi is the city’s main food squeeze though, mini dumplings boiled or fried, and filled with meat, cheese and potato.
As the Polish, say (probably because they can) - pyszne!