When it comes to travelling, trying your destination’s local food is always a must. Southeast Asian cuisine is an exquisite culinary affair, offering gastronomic delights that are bursting with tangy sauces, rich spices, smoky flavours and more. No city is the same, so it goes without saying that if you’re a foodie, traversing through a local food street is the best way to sample the best that place has to offer. Besides, walking and eating everything on sight makes it a heck of an adventure. Below, we share which are the best food streets for an authentic experience that will send your taste buds reeling.
1. Charoenkrung Road, Bangkok, Thailand
Come dusk, workers stream out of offices in the riverside district of Bangrak, making a beeline for their favourite vendors on Charoenkrung Road – an area that is developing into the city’s coolest creative hub. One of the most popular, Jok Prince (1391 Charoenkrung Rd, Silom, Bangrak), sits in an alley leading to the now-defunct Prince Cinema. It serves superb pork and century-egg congee infused with the smoky flavour of slightly burnt rice from the bottom of the pan.
Back on Charoenkrung Road, Prachak, a hole-in-the-wall joint that has been open since 1897, makes some of Bangkok’s best roast duck, usually served with a mildly spiced chilli sauce. Get here early as it closes at 8pm – though it runs out of duck long before that. For dessert, Sor Boonprakob, at the corner of Soi 44, serves the national treat: sticky rice with fresh mango. Like many other weathered establishments here, it has been in business for more than 80 years.
2. Luang Prabang Night Market, Luang Prabang, Laos
Laos’ cultural capital turns into a culinary haven come nightfall, as the small alley that runs from Sisavangvong Road to the Morning Market becomes the most affordable place to sample Luang Prabang’s delicacies. On Sisavangvong Road, baguette-sandwich sellers and fruit-shake vendors set up shop at the entrance to the old town’s main road.
The dimly lit red-brick-paved lane where the night market is held has just a scattering of wooden benches, but most vendors can explain the dishes to you in English. While barbecued meat such as ping kai (grilled chicken) is popular among tourists, try some of the lesser-known local dishes, such as aw lahm, a thick eggplant stew with bark from the pepperwood tree. There’s also kaipen, a Mekong river weed that is dried, soaked with dressing and topped with sesame seeds. It’s eaten with a spicy chilli paste made with buffalo skin.
3. Maha Bandula Road, Yangon, Myanmar
Backed by the crumbling colonial architecture of old Rangoon, the main thoroughfare through downtown Yangon is packed with traffic and pedestrians throughout the day. Street vendors set up their wares on almost every block, although the real foodie area begins in Chinatown, especially on 19th street, just off the main drag.
On Maha Bandula Road, you’ll find plenty of mohinga (rice noodles in fish soup) vendors in the morning. Sample some lahpet, the fermented tea-leaf salad that is eaten with white rice. The most happening spot is 19th street, where chairs and tables spill onto the road at night. The crowds are immense and noisy, and grow louder as the night progresses – especially when beer flows for US$2 a bottle and many tables share bottles of whisky. Most sellers offer barbecued meat and fish on skewers, as well as grilled vegetables.
4. Smith Street, Singapore
The Lion City has taken street food to a new level, even boasting two Michelin-star hawker stalls. One of them, Liao Fan Hawker Chan (previously named Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle), has opened a restaurant on Smith Street, where hawkers and eateries in traditional shophouses line the road.
Chinatown Food Street is enclosed by a glass canopy with a built-in cooling system – allowing diners to enjoy street eats without having to deal with the heat and humidity. Restaurants put plastic chairs and tables on the vehicle-free street, where you can try everything from tender roast duck to claypot frog porridge. Makeshift stalls offer crowd-pleasers such as fried kway teow (flat rice noodles), satay (barbecued meat skewers) and popiah (fresh spring rolls). The area is open till 11pm daily.
5. Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Visitors to Kuala Lumpur usually think of Bukit Bintang as a swanky shopping area, but it is also home to Jalan Alor, where dozens of hawkers set up tables lined with plastic stools and chairs. The stalls offer just about every popular Malaysian street-food dish, from oyster omelette and satay to popiah and fried jackfruit.
While the street is open during the day, you may prefer to come at night, when occasional street performers add to the buzz. Locals frequent Sai Woo (55 Jln Alor, Bukit Bintang) for seafood and dig in to succulent charcoal-grilled chicken wings at Wong Ah Wah. Though it may feel a little hectic, with cars rolling down the narrow road right next to diners, it’s all part of the scene.
6. Vinh Kanh Street, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
Ho Chi Minh City has a dazzling collection of food streets, led by Vinh Khanh in District 4, which is said to have once been the hangout of nefarious Vietnamese gangster Nam Cam. These days, it’s filled with young hipsters, who come in large groups and fill up the plastic stools along the street. They wash down their favourite dishes with copious amounts of beer.
It’s rather raucous here, with motorbikes carrying loud karaoke machines, break dancers and fire-eaters – so be prepared to yell out your order like everyone else. Most diners come to feast on seafood. The most revered spot, Oc Oanh, is famed for its fried sea snails and grilled scallops, both of which are served in massive portions. There are also a few barbecue joints where you can grill meats such as beef and pork on small charcoal stoves.
Please check the establishments’ respective websites for opening hours as well as booking requirements before visiting, and remember to adhere to safe-distancing measures while out and about.
The information is accurate as of press time. For updated information, please refer to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website.
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This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings on 14 February 2017 and updated on 7 April 2021.