“With apologizes to South America, Europe, Africa, there are fantastic examples of street food in those continents, but there’s just not the depth and breadth of street food culture where every hundred feet is a different staggering opportunity to eat staring you in the face,” Zimmern said of other places he’s visited.
Zimmern offers a guide to some of his favorite cities for street food, where stalls and meats on skewers are a way of the culture. But he warns travelers that “cash is king” here—these places do not use the Square.
5 Bangkok, Thailand
In Bangkok, it’s possible to find Zimmern eating street food before he’s even unpacked.
“There are a whole bunch of great hotels in Bangkok,” Zimmern said. “But I always stay at the Plaza Athénée because right outside there’s a guy that has basically a sticky, fragrant rice that’s twice-cooked and bound in a banana leaf. And he serves it around the best Thai-style roast chicken with peanut sauce in the world, with little sweet and sour pickles made with daikon and carrot.”
And for dessert?
“One of the great underestimated street foods in Bangkok is the sweets,” he said. “Most of them are flans and cakes. A lot of them are made with sweet potato and pumpkin. It is a breath-taking food experience.”
4 Chengdu, China
Zimmern’s favorite city for street food is big on spicy, be it noodles, dumplings or barbecued meats.
“Spicy rabbit is one of the great street foods of Chengdu,” he said. “So you’ll find a lot of stalls that have barbecue, chili-rubbed rabbit and they hack it up for you and you eat it on the bone. There are a ton of street vendors who roast the rabbit heads and soak them in really [oily Chinese] mala chili sauce—it’s spicy and numbing. I know I sound like a walking cliché, but grabbing a bag of four or five of these things and gnawing the meat off of them is—it’s so good.”
3 Hanoi, Vietnam
“Every third or fourth stall is, cliché of clichés, an older woman with bowls with a hundred ingredients in front of her and a bowl of warm water to one side, some rice paper sheets to the other,” he said. “There’s three or four stools in front of her. And if you don’t know the language, you point and she will roll spring rolls for you to order with homemade pickles, pungent herbs—I mean things you’d never see in this country that are just extraordinary.”
2 Hong Kong
Street food stalls in Hong Kong are more intense than a traditional day out to a dim sum brunch in America, Zimmern said.
“There’s not a lot of dumplings sold,” he says. “However, at any good dim sum parlor, the carts or the trays go by and there’s crispy spring rolls and black bean simmered rib tips and steamed buns. You’ll find those in street stalls in Hong Kong… fried snacks are also really big.”
Zimmern also like the “sweet, delicious, malty, funky” large, round, warm Hong Kong waffles made with eggs and evaporated milk.
Singapore is a melting pot of cultures and, perhaps because of this, Zimmern says street food there “is a cultural institution.”
As far as what’s on the menu, Zimmern says you’ll find steamed hainan chicken with rice, halal food made under Islamic dietary instructions and countless “soups and stews, from Indian fish head curries to incredible bowls of laksa,” which is a Chinese-Malay spicy noodle soup.
Also expect a lot of crab dishes.
“Crab is usually reserved there for hawker stalls and places you can get messy, but I’d had some incredible chili crab dishes that I’ve bought from hawker stalls and had to find my own seat,” he said.