Street food is an integral part of the culture in much of Asia, and each country offers a huge array of tasty morsels, snacks and delicacies for you to try.
No trip to any part of the continent would be complete without sampling at least some of the local specialties, and eating in the street is also a great way to meet the locals and learn more about the places where you travel.
With such a bewildering array on offer, it’s impossible to provide a list of all the things for you to taste, but here is a list of 29 Asian street food classics for you to hunt down during your trip.
Table of Contents
- 1. Chuanr – Street Barbecue, Beijing, China
- 2. Yakitori, Barbecued Meat, Tokyo, Japan
- 3. Buuz – Mongolian Dumplings, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
- 4. Tteokbokki, Seoul, Korea
- 5. Gai Yang – Barbecued Chicken, Isaan, Thailand
- 6. Yang Rou Paomo, Lamb Soup with Pieces of Bread, Xian, China
- 7. Takoyaki, Octopus Balls, Osaka, Japan
- 8. Pad Thai, Bangkok, Thailand
- 9. Sheng Jian, Fried Dumplings, Shanghai, China
- 10. Khao Soi, Curry Noodles, Chiangmai, Thailand
- 11. Jianbing, Savory Pancake, Tianjin, China
- 12. Barbecued Fish, Sihanoukville, Cambodia
- 13. Fresh Spring Rolls, Hanoi, Vietnam
- 14. Roast Duck or Goose on Rice, Hong Kong
- 15. Som Tam, Spicy Papaya Salad, Lao and Isaan (Northeast Thailand)
- 16. Laksa, Noodle Soup, Singapore
- 17. Jiaozi, Steamed Dumplings, Beijing, China
- 18. Satay, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand
- 19. Bubur Ayam, Rice Porridge with Chicken, Jakarta, Indonesia
- 20. Nasi Lemak, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
- 21. Bánh Mì, Vietnamese Sandwich, Vietnam
- 22. Stinky Tofu, Taipei, Taiwan
- 23. Bhel Puri, Mumbai, India
- 24. Egg Tarts, Macau
- 25. Murtabak, Kota Bharu, Malaysia
- 26. Cao Lầu, Hoi An Noodles, Hoi An, Vietnam
- 27. Halo-Halo, Manila, Philippines
- 28. Bubble Milk Tea, Taipei, Taiwan
- 29. Bia Hơi, “Fresh Beer”, Bia Hơi Corner, Hanoi, Vietnam
- An unimaginable variety of delights to savor
Street barbecue stands are ubiquitous in the Chinese capital, and sitting down for a few sticks of chuanr with friends is a quintessential Beijing experience. The most common and traditional type are lamb skewers, but you’ll also find many other types of meat including more adventurous items such as chicken hearts and chicken gizzards, alongside a wide range of vegetables. You’ll never have trouble finding somewhere to eat chuanr in Beijing – just look out for the rising smoke from the barbecue and the Chinese character 串 that looks just like a skewer of meat!
The Japanese also have their version of barbecued meat known as yakitori. A popular snack during festival times, they are covered in a sweet-and-savory sauce that makes them absolutely irresistible. You can try yakitori in Tokyo or anywhere across the country – they’re also a popular snack in izakaya, Japanese-style pubs, where they are common accompaniment to a cold Japanese beer.
Meat dumplings are popular across most of Asia, and each country has its own take. In Mongolia, they are known as buuz, and they are considered to be the country’s national dish. Usually stuffed with mutton or goat, you can find them being sold in many places in the capital as well as in other towns throughout the country. Mongolian buuz are very similar to the type of meat dumplings found in Tibet, Nepal and northern India, where they are known as momos.
Tteokbokki is a type of Korean stir-fried rice cake that’s cooked in a bright red sweet-and-spicy sauce. There are many variations of this popular street food snack, so you can keep going back to try different versions, and they’re easy to find on the streets of Seoul, making this the number one street food to try while you’re there.
In the north-eastern region of Thailand known as Isaan – as well as everywhere in neighboring Laos – you’ll often come across chicken being grilled by the roadside. Lightly seasoned and tender, this is a simple but unmissable local specialty you have to try. Barbecued chicken is commonly sold at bus stops – and often vendors even come onto the bus to sell it. Buy a bag of sticky rice to go with it to keep you filled up until you arrive at your destination.
If you head to Xian to visit China’s Terracotta Army, you’ll probably also find yourself exploring the warren of streets that make up the ancient city’s Muslim quarter. While you’re there, be sure to try yang rou paomo, a local specialty that consists of a soup containing slices of lamb along with small pieces of chewy bread. There are plenty of other delights to sample in the streets of Xian, but if you only eat one thing while you’re there, it should be this.
Balls of batter with an octopus filling and topped with mayonnaise, dried fish flakes and more, takoyaki is a snack that’s hugely popular everywhere in Japan, but it’s originally from Osaka, making that the best place to sample it if you’re passing through.
The Thai capital is one of the world’s greatest cities for street food, and perhaps the ultimate classic you need to sample while you’re there is pad Thai. It’s a dish made up of fried noodles along with bean sprouts, chicken, prawns, tofu, egg and other ingredients. You squeeze a wedge of lime over the top, add chili flakes, vinegar and crushed peanuts according to your taste, grab a pair of chopsticks and dig in!
Shanghai is home to several dumpling specialties, and perhaps the most delicious is sheng jian, a type of meat dumpling containing a soupy broth fried in large batches on special griddles. If you’re a fan of dumplings, these are among the best you’ll find – just make sure you let them cool a little before you bite into them or you’ll burn your mouth on the hot soup!
If you find yourself in Thailand’s second city of Chiangmai up in the north of the country, make sure you try a bowl of khao soi, a type of curry noodle soup usually served with chicken. It contains a mix of spices that are not usually found in Thai cooking, clearly reflecting the influence of Myanmar on the cuisine of the region.
In most cities in the northern part of China, it won’t be difficult to locate a cart selling jianbing, a kind of Chinese pancake containing egg, coriander, savory sauce, chili and other ingredients. Jianbing is most closely associated with Tianjin, and that’s the place to go if you want to taste the original.
The city of Sihanoukville on Cambodia’s coast is famous for seafood barbecues on the beach and along the streets near the bustling bar area. Select the fish you want from the display and wait for it to grilled to perfection, served with a Cambodian sweet chili sauce.
One of the healthiest street food snacks around – and one of the most delicious. Containing prawn, lettuce leaves and other local ingredients and dipped into a sweet fish sauce, this is a street food specialty that you can’t visit Hanoi – or any part of Vietnam – without trying.
As you explore the streets of Hong Kong, you’ll see glazed roast ducks and geese hanging up in the windows of small and unpretentious eateries. The tender meat is simply chopped into slices and served over rice, perhaps with an accompanying dipping sauce. If you don’t know whether to go for duck or goose, just order both!
Originally from Laos and the neighboring Isaan region across the border in Thailand, som tam is a type of salad made with slices of unripe papaya pounded in wooden bowls along with other ingredients like fish sauce, lime, sugar – and plenty of chili. This is one of the best-known dishes from Laos and Isaan, and if you’re passing through the area, this should be one of your priority foods to try.
Singapore is one of the best places in Asia if you like to eat well, and if you only have time for one meal while you’re there, it should be laksa. A bowl of noodles served in a creamy coconut curry, this is a dish every visitor to Singapore needs to taste at least once.
The other unmissable street food classic in Beijing is jiaozi, steamed meat dumplings usually containing pork. They come in bamboo steamers and are eaten with a vinegar dipping sauce – to which you add some chili if you like it spicy. You can eat them as a snack at any time of day, but they’re perfect for breakfast along with a youtiao, a fried dough stick, and a cup of hot doujiang, soya milk.
Satay, skewers of meat served with a delicious peanut sauce, is a popular street food in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. In Muslim-majority Malaysia and Indonesia, they are usually made with chicken or mutton – but in Thailand, pork satay is also popular.
A classic East Asian breakfast, perhaps the best version of rice porridge is bubur ayam, chicken rice porridge, that is sold throughout Indonesia. If you are staying in the popular Jalan Jaksa area of Jakarta, you’ll find street stalls just around the corner selling inexpensive but delicious bubur ayam that will have you coming back for more each morning.
Nasi Lemak, a delicious dish of coconut rice, usually served with beef or chicken, a boiled egg, fried anchovies and peanuts, is Malaysia’s unofficial national dish and a must-try for anyone visiting the country. You’ll find a multitude of places serving it throughout the capital, and a great place to find it is KL’s lively Chinatown area.
Bánh mì is Vietnam’s take on the humble bread roll, but as anyone who has ever tried one will know, the Vietnamese have managed to take the concept to another level. Crispy French-style bread is stuffed with fillings like meat, pâté, cheese and more along with vegetables, pickles and delicious local sauce that makes these sandwiches as good as any you’ll find anywhere in the world.
If you’re strolling around one of Taipei’s exciting night markets and find your nose assaulted by a most malodourous pong, there’s a good chance that what you’re smelling is stinky tofu. Fermented bean curd is deep-fried in oil before being smothered in sauce – and it’s worth trying since it tastes far better than it smells!
The classic Mumbai street snack is bhel puri, a mixture of puffed rice, potatoes, onions, chaat masala and much more. Typically associated with Chowpatty and Juhu beaches, so head down there, find your favorite vendor and enjoy a bag as you stroll along the seafront at sunset.
24. Egg Tarts, Macau
Perhaps Macao’s most famous food and now popular everywhere in China, Macao’s egg tarts are an irresistible dessert with a Portuguese influence. Creamy and delicious, you’re sure to want to eat as many as you can before you have to leave!
Murtabak is a type of thick stuffed pancake with a strong Indian influence. You can find it throughout Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore, but the night market in Kota Bharu is as good a place as any to sample it– and there are plenty of other sweet and savory snacks worth trying too.
In Vietnam, Hoi An is arguably the city with the best food, and while you’re there, the first dish to look out for is cao lầu, a delicious local style of noodle soup. Ingredients include pork, vegetables and crunchy crouton-like morsels, which all combine to create one of the most delicious bowls of noodles Vietnam has to offer. Sorry, phở!
If you’re in Manila – or just about anywhere else in the Philippines – you’ll have the chance to sample one of the most amazing desserts you’ll come across. Halo-halo is a bit like what you’d get if you raided the cupboard and mixed all the sweet ingredients you found together in a glass along with a generous portion of shaved ice. Expect to encounter beans, jelly, tapioca pearls, candied fruit, sweet milk, ice cream, flan, toasted rice, purple yam, sweet syrups – and much more.
Popular around the world but a Taiwanese original, if you want a refreshing drink to cool you down during the hottest months of the summer, bubble milk tea filled with tapioca balls, pieces of jelly and more is, without doubt, the one to go for.
One of the most fun things to do in the evening in northern Vietnam is to sit down at one the many roadside stalls selling bia hơi, Vietnamese for “fresh beer”. Small glasses of beer are poured from large containers, and you sit on the street on low plastic chairs enjoying it along with some tasty Vietnamese snacks like pig skin or peanuts. Possibly the best place for bia hơi is Hanoi’s famous bia hơi corner, a bustling location where you can sit and watch the world go by while chatting to the always friendly and welcoming locals.
An unimaginable variety of delights to savor
Asia is a vast and sprawling continent that is home to an almost unimaginable variety of national cuisines and local specialties. Sampling and savoring the delights that Asia has to offer is one of the greatest joys of travelling there, and the sights, smells and flavors of the street food you find will be some of the most enduring memories you take with you when you leave.