Since the dawn of urbanization , street food remain an integral part of the growing city, a witness to the ever-changing urbanscape, a potential economy source for the migrants and in its truest sense it reflects the vast diversity exists in culture of the city, that reminds of the flavor and taste from land afar. Born in the narrow dingy lanes of Asian and Latin American cities, street food thrives on its sheer versatility, attractive visual display of sumptuous prepared food that is very hard to ignore, its affordability that can cut across the different strata of the society, freshness and local ingredients that adds life to the dish and the food that is hard to find even in the restaurants. The theatrical scene of lanes after lanes parked cozily with the number of food carts preparing the food right in front of you, the hot coals barbecuing the meat or the giant wok that is busy in tossing the noodles, where you share the table with the strangers, the aroma and its unparalleled taste that will haunt you down, time and again. The magical formula that works every time, everywhere across the globe.
So how far will you travel for food? If you are like me, a street food aficionado then pack your bags and head to these South Asia’s top three food destinations and here is my bucket list for the year 2016.
1) Penang ( Malaysia ) : When it comes to street food, Malaysia tops the list, a unanimous choice for the foodies, probably the best in South Asia. And in particular the tropical island of Penang. Penang is excitingly diverse in its culture, a cosmopolitan hub of expats, locals, migrants and travellers and that reflects in its multicultural ethnicity of the food.
What to taste :
a) Asam Laksa – a sour fish based noodle soup or broth flavoured with lemongrass, tamarind and shrimp paste.
b) Mee Goreng – has its roots in Chinese chow mein but the Malay version is different, it is spicy and savory.
c) Char koay teow – it is another popular noodle dish in Malaysia, flat rice noodles stir fried with eggs, shrimps, veggies over very high heat that gives it’s characteristic charred look.
2) Singapore : The street food scene in Singapore is really exhaustive, with hundreds of hawker center selling the foods all over the country in thousands of stalls that has peppered its streets. Government initiatives has changed the early rustic food scenario in Singapore to more modern, safe and hygienic food courts.
What to taste :
a) Chili crab : It is so popular that it has become Singapore’s national dish. It is luxurious, rich and ever-so satisfying. Traditionally it is served with steamed or toasted buns called mantou. Chili crab and mantou buns are hit combo.
b) Hokkien mee – or fried hokkein mee, a noodle dish cooked in prawn rich stock, to which bee hoon or vermicelli noodles is also added along with bean sprouts, eggs, sliced sotong or squid and pork belly.
c) Katong Laksa : Laksa is popular noodle soup savoured throughout the entire region of South Asia, particularly in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesian cuisine. Katong laksa is rice noodle and shrimp soup in a rich and flavourful coconut based curry, served with scoop of sambal olek and slivers of laksa leaves.
3) Bangkok (Thailand): Of all the South Asian cuisine, Thai food is close to my heart, a complete celebration for the senses. The fragrance and vibrancy of Thai food is largely governed by these fragrant mix of Thai basil leaves, kaffir lime leaves, pandan leaves, galangal, lemongrass and shallots. Bangkok is home to one of the most exciting food scene, the Chatachuk weekend market, Suan lum night bazaar or Sukhumvit soi 38 are some of the best food streets of the country.
What to taste :
a) Pad Thai and Som Tam : Pad Thai is Thailand’s national dish. Pad Thai has all the flavors for which Thai cuisine is known for, hot and spicy, sweet and tangy and the unmistakable flavor of peanut which simply makes it irresistible along with young bean sprouts which makes it all the more delectable.
Som tam is freshly pounded papaya salad, an explosion of flavours with chilies, garlic, peanuts, fish sauce, tamarind juice and fresh squeeze of lime, rounded up by the dried shrimps.
b) Mango sticky rice : A classic Thai dessert and you will find number od stalls selling this sublime dessert sometimes wrapped in pandan leaves. Sticky and glutinous jasmine rice is flavoured with juicy mangoes and coconut cream.
c) Tom yam soup : You will find this soup everywhere, a clear broth with shrimps, veggies or chickens with lots of chillies and flavours and certainly not for faint hearted.
The list is really exhaustive and I have chosen most popular street foods, though every one has their preferences and crazes when it comes to select their most favoured street food. Two special mention is reserved for dish like Nasi Lemak and Satay that you will find throughout the entire region of South Asia and flavours varies as you travel from one region to another.
Let me know your favourite picks from these cities.