When most of us travel abroad, we plan our trip around excursions to museums, parks, gardens, architectural wonders, and historical sites. We search painstakingly for deals on airfare and accommodations, research the best places to stay or routes to take. But what about the food—the local cuisine of our intended destination?
Most often, the local cuisine can be had in the streets—and at a bargain price that’s sure to make any frugal traveler jump for joy. Street food for many people in the places we visit is considered the common person’s food. It may not sound enticing, it can even sound a bit boring, but street food can be the most memorable part of a trip.
1. Crepes and the Outdoor Markets in Paris, France
The crepe is the quintessential Parisian street food. There are savory or salty (salé), crepes as well as sweet (sucré) crepes, so you can pretty much eat crepes all day long. But make sure that the proprietor makes them fresh rather than reheating pre-made crepes. Pre-made crepes turn out too soggy and not as tasty as those that are fresh-made. Sweet crepe fillings not to be missed are Nutella and chocolate. (Eat them separately—not together!) As for savory crepes, any type of cheese (ah, France has so many!) will do.
Although Paris might be better known for its incredible flea markets and antiques (marchés aux puces), there are quite a few outdoor markets (marchés en plein-air) where you can buy food. The covered markets are open all year long while the open-air markets are generally open only two or three mornings a week. There are outdoor markets in every district or arrondissement of Paris, so chances are you can find one pretty easily.
2. Meat Pies and the Borough Market in London, England
Yes, as a country, England is not known for outstanding food. There are no fancy restaurants in other parts of the world that boast delightful British cuisine. But their food scene has been rapidly evolving, incorporating Indian curries and other international flavors. However, many of the restaurants that offer the more innovative—and tasty—food are on the expensive side. And the question of what is authentically British food comes to mind. Aside from finding a cheap—and decent—fish and chips place, what can a frugal traveler eat? The answer is a meat pie, a wholly British concoction that is inexpensive and oh-so-good.
Square Pie is an upscale chain of fast food meat pies located throughout London. They offer two different sizes of pie (the larger Classic and the smaller Midi) and a variety of meat combinations like lamb and rosemary or steak and Guinness. They also carry cheese pies and sweet pies as well as side dishes like mashed potatoes, mushy peas (which tastes better than it sounds), sausage rolls, and veggie rolls.
The Borough Market, London’s oldest food market and located by the London Bridge, is another place to go for authentic local fare at a modest price. In addition to local and organic produce, artisan cheeses, and meats, you can also find savory and sweet pies, pickles, sausages, and an array of prepared international foods. You can spend an entire day just going through this expansive market, eating your way from one end to another.
3. Kushari and the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar in Cairo, Egypt
It may be taking a great leap of faith to try street food in Egypt, but the adventurous traveler can and should. As expected, there will be plenty of falafel, but the dish to try is kushari (also spelled kosheri, koshari, and koshary), considered the common Egyptian person’s food and popular among street vendors. It’s a combination of pasta, rice, brown lentils, vinegar, and tomato sauce topped with fried onions. You can add fried liver or some type of meat for an additional topping.
The best place to eat kushari is at the Khan el-Khalili Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest and largest markets. And while it’s not known for food (the main goods sold are gold, silver, copper, perfume, spices, and cloth), there are several coffee or tea shops, restaurants, and street food vendors distributed throughout the market, so you’re certain to find a place that sells kushari. The ambience of the old bazaar makes this excursion for kushari one that will certainly top a traveler’s list of the coolest—or craziest—places he or she has ever had a meal. In between haggling for silver cartouche or a woven afghan, check out one of the coffee shops, which are generally small and quite traditional, serving Arabic coffee. You can also try a shisha, which is a water pipe for smoking herbal fruits or tobacco.
4. Cheese Steak Sandwiches, the Amish, and Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
While some Americans may fight over how to prepare their pork ribs, hot dogs, and hamburgers, none will dispute the way a cheese steak sandwich should be made. In fact, there seems to be only one way, and that way is the Philly way.
The Philly cheese steak sandwich is an icon of American comfort food and is best experienced in Philadelphia. Chopped steak meat with “the wiz,” served on a warm roll is how most people eat it, though there are toppings that can be enjoyed without ridicule from the local Philadelphians, like onions or peppers. The place to go for cheese steak is 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue, where the debate over who makes the best cheese steak in the City of Brotherly Love (Geno’s or Pat’s) has been going on for decades. These two rival establishments are directly across from each other, which makes it easy for any hungry visitor to patronize both places in the same day, even the same lunch hour.
There are many places to find excellent street food in the United States, but one that stands out is the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. The origins of the market itself go back to the time of William Penn, though the site itself was once a train terminal for the Reading Railroad Company. Within the walls of this former train station are several food stalls that will certainly impress you. Yes, there’s a stall that serves the signature cheese steak, but you’ll also find many stalls offering Amish specialties like breads, ribs, cheese, and ice cream. The Amish specialties are worth the trip to this indoor market, since you’re not likely to find them in other parts of the country. Since they favor rural life and primarily choose to separate themselves from the non-Amish world, their presence and their goods—all handmade, made with local ingredients, and quite delicious—are a welcome site at the market.
5. Hawker Food and Hawker Centers in Singapore
Street food is at the heart of all things epicurean in Singapore, and eating it is the best way to experience the country via your palate. “Hawker” is the name given to the open-air stalls that provide street food, and they’re usually grouped together in food courts or centers. For those who tend to stay away from street food when traveling, hawker food is extremely trustworthy. The Singaporean government instituted a system of inspecting and grading (A through D) for cleanliness, and the grade must be displayed on the front of each stall. There are several hawker centers throughout Singapore, a tiny island country of only 259 square miles. Try the Chomp Chomp Food Centre near Fort Canning Park, a bit off the beaten path, but definitely worth the visit. Or ask a native Singaporean for his or her favorite hawker court or center.
As you survey the offerings at the hawker food centers, you’ll notice that Malay, Chinese, Indian, some Indonesian, some Japanese, and even some Western influences can be found in many Singaporean foods. This is supremely evident in the noodle dishes: mee goreng (chilies, minced meat, potatoes, and bean sprouts in a light curry sauce), bee hoon goreng (fried eggs, sprouts, and onions), and char kway teow (clams, sausage, and egg) are but three of countless noodle dishes. Don’t forget to try the Hainanese chicken rice, Singapore’s signature dish, and beef or chicken satay.
Whether you’re visiting Paris, France or Paris, Kentucky, asking the locals to guide you to their favorite street fare is the best way to discover the local flavor.