15 Must Try Street Food Dishes in Asia

Nov 10, 2021 | Adventure Travel, Food & Drinks, India, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Travel Tips

What is the best part of travelling in Asia? Is it nature? The culture? What about the cheap prices? For us, all of these things make Asia an amazing place to travel. However, one of our favourite things is the street food! Whether it’s a warm bowl of Pho in Vietnam, short eats in Sri Lanka or satay in Indonesia, each country has their own famous street foods that are delicious in their own right. If you’ve ever been curious about some of the most popular street food dishes in each country, or how they got their names, you’re not alone. That is why, we’re giving you a list of 15 must try street food dishes in Asia! If you’re travelling post covid, and want to get some cheap local food, or want to expand your taste palate, then this list is for you!

 

Takoyaki – Japan:

Commonly found on street stalls in Japan, takoyaki is fried balls filled with octopus, ginger, onions and tempura scraps. After they are fried, they are usually served with mayonnaise, fish shavings and a very distinct takoyaki sauce, which is kind of like worcester sauce. The dish first became popular in Osaka where it was invented by street vendor Tomekichi Endo in 1935. During our Japan tours, we attend a food tour in Osaka that is perfect for trying new foods and learning more about the traditions attached to them.

Street vendor flipping takoyaki

Banh Mi – Vietnam:

If you find yourself taking a walk through a Vietnamese city, you will see a lot of bánh mì counters on the sides of streets. These simple carts sell sandwiches for an absolute steal of a price. If you get a chance to be up before sunrise, you will even see a lot of workers grabbing a sandwich before heading off to work for the day.

The sandwiches are traditionally made using crusty baguettes and a mix of meat and vegetables. Be aware, there are usually handfuls of coriander leaves stuffed into these sandwiches so remember to ask with a banh mi without cilantro if you are a part of the population who think that it tastes like soap.
Sandwiches are a bit unusual as an Asian street food. However, this sandwich became popular during the French Colonial era in Vietnam and has remained a favourite ever since.

Bahn Mi sandwich in a paper wrapping ready for takeaway

Nasi Goreng – Indonesia and Malaysia:

 

Nasi translates to rice and goreng fried, in both Indonesian and Malay. Therefore, this classic fried rice dish consists of stir-fried rice, garlic, shrimp paste, sweet soy sauce, shallots, tamarind and chilli. You can add different meats, vegetables and seafood to your liking. Compared to other fried rice dishes in Asia like Chinese or Thai fried rice, Nasi Goreng has a stronger and spicier taste.

Although most commonly associated with Indonesia and Malaysia, Nasi Goreng is also eaten in Brunei, Singapore and Sri Lanka. Locals will eat this dish for breakfast, lunch or dinner. But for us, it is a great dish for a quick lunch before heading out exploring!

 

Adobo – Philippines: 

Abodo is considered to be the unofficial food of the country and one of the most popular Filipino dishes. The meal originated during the Spanish colonial era in the Philippines with the word ‘adobo’ meaning ‘dressing’ in Spanish.
Adobo is the name given to the specific marinade used to cook meat and seafood. Adobo consists of soy sauce, bay leaves, vinegar, garlic and peppercorn. The most popular variation of the dish is chicken adobo, found almost everywhere across the Philippines, though pork adobo can also be common.
Variations of the adobo marinade have cropped up all over the world, especially in former Spanish colonies. You can find different kinds of adobo in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Peru and Uruguay today.

 

Phở – Vietnam: 

The country’s most famous street food dish has to be Pho (pronounced fuh). It can be found in restaurants all over the world. This hot noodle soup consists of broth, rice noodles, herbs and meat, usually either beef or chicken. (Phở Bo is the beef version, and Phở Ga is the chicken variation.)
Phở is present all over Vietnam however, there are some differences depending on if you are in the north of the country or the south. In the north, they use a whole blanched green onion and garnishes usually only consists of coriander, chilli sauce, garlic and quẩy. In the south of Vietnam, the broth uses a lot of different herbs and is served with hoisin sauce, fresh chilli and bean sprouts.

A bowl of Phở is one of the most commonly eaten foods in Vietnam

Satay – Indonesia:

This Southeast Asian street food snack is a favourite with travellers all throughout the region. In Indonesia, Satay sauce is usually a combination of peanut and soy sauce, along with some other spice variations, served over the top of meat skewers. It is common to also add a side of rice to the skewers.

This dish is believed to have originated in Java, but is also commonly eaten in Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

Skewers of chicken loaded with peanut sauce

Roti – India: 

Also known as chapati, roti is a flatbread that is most associated with India. However, it is also enjoyed in Indonesia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. Roti is made from water, wheat flour and salt and is served alongside many local dishes. As many breakfast meals are savoury in India, it even secures a spot alongside the first meal of the day! Is there anything more fulfilling and comforting than bread?

Roti with a glass of milk, often served for breakfast in India

Kushikatsu – Japan:

Kushi in Japanese roughly translates to skewers, and katsu is breaded and deep fried things. The result of this popular street food is a bunch of vegetables and even meats, all skewered, coated in a batter, and deep fried until golden brown and crispy. What makes kushikatsu great is the sauce. The sauce has a Worcestershire sauce-like flavour. A crunchy fried stick dipped in the sauce is incredibly tasty.

Kushikatsu ready to be served at a street food vendor cart in Japan

Kwek Kwek – Philippines:

Kwek-Kwek is a popular street food in the Philippines. It is basically boiled quails eggs, dipped in an orange batter and then deep-fried. Once crispy, kwek-kwek is usually served with a spicy, vinegar dip.

Local legend claims that it was invented accidentally when a balut seller dropped one on the ground. Not wanting to waste the balut, the cook simply peeled off the eggshell before coating in flour and deep-frying. The origins of kwek-kwek are not known for sure. However, this is how many believe kwek-kwek was born.

Kwek Kwek on a stick ready to be served at a street vendor in the Philippines

Short Eats – Sri Lanka: 

Short eats are similar to a pastry, sort of like empanadas but filled with a spicy curry mix, usually of potatoes and vegetables. The rather strange name originates from British colonial times, where the tradition would stop for afternoon tea and a quick or ‘short’ bite to eat!
These delicious treats are often transported by the famous Choon Paan Man, who signals his arrival with the classic tune of Beethoven’s ‘Für Elise’. That’s right, the Choon Paan Man is essentially a bakery on wheels, selling fresh bread and ‘short eats’. Sometimes spotted as early as 5:00 am, the Sri Lankan workforce has come to rely on this for both their daily routine and their lunchtime snacks!

 

Rendang – Indonesia: 

Rendang is one of Indonesia’s most famous dishes. It is a slow-cooked and spicy meat dish that usually uses beef. The beef is marinated in a coconut milk and spice mix which makes the meat super tender.

Supposed to have originated from West Sumatra, Rendang was originally a dish which was only served to the upper class. This is partly because beef used to be very expensive but also because it was believed that only the wealthy and privileged should enjoy a dish as delicious as rendang. Nowadays, it is one of the most popular dishes at most muslim holidays accross Indonesia.

Beef rendang resting in a bowl, ready to be served with some steaming hot rice

Laksa – Malaysia:

Sometimes eating soup whilst it is hot out can be strange for some, but it can make for a great night snack whilst travelling or if you are in a place of high altitude. Laksa is a type of spicy noodle soup made with rice vermicelli with chicken, fish or prawn. The dish can be found in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and in some parts of southern Thailand.

Different types of laksa will use different soup bases, which makes the dish taste entirely different. Typically, there are two different bases for the dish: coconut milk or sour asam (gelugur or tamarind).

 laksa is usually eaten with chopsticks to get the noodles and a spoon to be able to get the broth

Papri/Papdi Chaat – India: 

Like many street foods in India, Papdi Chaat is an extremely popular street food which comes at an unbelievably affordable price, especially in northern India.

The name comes from ‘papris’ or ‘papdis’, crunchy chips made from a wheat dough that are kind of similar to nachos. Depending on the region of India you are in, these crisps can be loaded with a variety of toppings; from chickpeas to potatoes, peanuts, chutney, coriander or yoghurt. After your toppings, it is usually loaded with a generous bit of chaat masala, a timeless Indian spicy sauce!

 papdi chaat loaded with toppings

Kothu Roti – Sri Lanka: 

Kothu Roti has to be Sri Lanka’s favourite comfort food. This dish is also known as Kottu and Koththu Roti. This bread-based street food dish is made by cutting bread into tiny pieces before combining that with egg, vegetables, meat and spices. Whilst it might not look like the most appealing food, once you take your first bite you will quickly realize why it is so popular.

Not only is the dish delicious, but it is also well worth the order to watch the street chef prepare it for you!

 

Pad Thai – Thailand:

It is impossible to talk about Asian street food without talking about Pad Thai. The classic noodle dish from Thailand is made from rice noodles, eggs, fish sauce, tamarind paste, garlic, palm sugar, Thai chilli pepper and your choice of chicken shrimp or tofu. Once you get the dish from the vendor, you should top it off with crushed peanuts, chili flakes, and maybe even a little bit of sugar to add that final level of delicious taste.

You can find Pad Thai all over the country and costs around 30฿ -60฿ ($1.20-2.40 AUD) on the street. This food is famous worldwide and is loved by both travellers and locals. With Bangkok being the most visited city in the world, it isn’t hard to find someone who has tried Pad Thai and they can tell you how amazing it is!

pad thai is one of the most popular dishes that travellers from all over the world have tried at least once

Although there are a lot more amazing dishes that we did not include on our list, we hope that our guide has given you a good place to start your Asian street food journey. There is often so much choice and even sometimes, menus in english can be scarce. If you are unsure what to order, start with the most common items then branch out from there! What is your favourite street food dish? We would love to know so tell us in the comments below.

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