Street Food Hall of Fame: East and Southeast Asia

If not for the seductive promise of binge-worthy street food, we would probably never get on a plane. Check out our key city scenes in East and Southeast Asia (and yes, we know, this topic is ripe for sequels).

Metro Manila

Where: Fort Bonifacio, Binondo, Alabang, University Belt

A sweet dough flash fry in Binondo – Photo credit

Members of Metro Manila’s massive expat community police the social order on the basis of who can afford tuition at the best international schools and real estate near the polo club and, indeed, on who knows where to score the best nefarious street grub. A stealthy, health inspector-less scene features grill items like isaw manok (chicken intestines), baga (cow or pig lung), helmet (chicken head), adidas (chicken feet) and betamax (pork or chicken blood cake). Needless to say, stellar condiments and sauces help enormously. Other faves include fish and squid balls, pancit (noodles with pork, egg and vegetables), balut (duck egg with fetus), halo-halo (a neon, icy blend of kitchen sink-variety items, from purple yam to tapioca balls, coconut to corn), and, in a nod to the two dominant cultural influences in the Philippines, staples like empanadas, chicharon, glutinous rice desserts and dim sum-like shumai.

Hong Kong

Where: Central, Sham Shui Po, Causeway Bay, Mong Kok, Temple Street Markets, Hau Fook Street, Haiphong Street

The cuffs were put on Hong Kong’s willy nilly street food scene post-handover but the city still operates a fabulous network of open-air dai pai dong. Gorge on stinky tofu, curry fish balls, curative congee and chicken pancakes and wash it all down with a milk tea.


Where: Phahurat, Yaowarat, Banglamphu

Sidewalk sustenance lurks in countless corners in Thailand’s megalopolis capital and the more furtive the better. A city where locals greet each other with “Have you eaten?” – the ubiquitous “Kin khao rue yang?” – demands a thorough and complete culinary canvass. Start with street stall noodles, a comestible secular deity in Bangkok, and work your way up.

George Town, Penang

Where: Little India, Chinatown, Gurney Frive New Esplanade, Red Garden, New World Park

No avowal disgraces a person more within the global cabal of epicures than to exalt Kuala Lumpur over Penang in the street food department. Though now very much a banal, borderline obnoxious backpacker cliché to assert that “tourists dine in KL, travellers eat in Penang”, this pretty much sums it up. Get wise to kway teow and nyonya kueh at wet markets, back alley hawker gaggles and busy intersections in the UNESCO World Heritage capital, George Town.


Where: Shilin Night Market, Xin Yi Mitsukoshi Street Fair, Raohe Street Night Market, Ximending

Shilin Night Market – Photo credit

Is island life to blame for the manifold and fiercely independent gastroscape that permeates Taiwan? As a new visitor to the capital (or Kaohsiung, Taichung et al.) you notice it minutes after you step out of your Taipei hotel: food is deadly serious business here. Prowl the myriad night market stalls in the vibrant metropolis, snap food porn pics for your blog and, finally, gorge on sausages, stinky tofu (yes, again), bbq squid, oyster omelettes, Indian flat breads, plump ren bing rolls and sugarcane juice.


Where: Chinatown, Little India, Gey-lang, Balestier Road

Like a zinc bar in a swish cocktail lounge, corrugated tin, refurbed auto parts, murky white-hot oil of questionable origin and low, rickety stools often accent the hallmarks of mythical street eats. But not always. RTW foodies may shun Singapore in search of “authenticity” and more affordable prices elsewhere but a lack of grunge need not disqualify the city-state from hawker grub lore. With more than 40,000 vendors of diabolical victual variety, Singapore has street cred.

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