What Is Street Food?
Street foods are ready-to-eat foods sold by vendors in public places. Not unlike food trucks, street food vendors can be found in a variety of locations including markets, fairs, and other special events. Convenient and affordable, it exists in many different forms and is popular in a variety of different countries and cultures.
What Is Considered Street Food?
Though many street foods are characterized as fast food, it's important to note that they can be found in many different forms. Beyond the fact that it is sold by vendors in public places, there isn't one specific thing that defines street food. Rather, it can be identified based on a variety of different characteristics. These characteristics include:
- Readiness: In general, street foods can be enjoyed as soon as they are purchased. Vendors prepare food for guests and serve it on the spot.
- How it is sold: Street food is typically sold by vendors operating a food truck, cart, or stand.
- Cost: Though prices can vary depending on your location, most street foods are relatively inexpensive.
- Waiting time: In most cases, wait times for street food are significantly less than ordering from a restaurant. Many street foods are already prepared when they are sold, while others can quickly be cooked.
Asian Street Food
Though it is enjoyed everywhere, street food is particularly popular in South and Southeast Asian countries. City streets in countries like India, China, Vietnam, and Taiwan are often packed with vendors looking to feed hungry customers. No matter where you come from, chances are a street food vendor will have something that fits your appetite. Below, we’ll investigate popular street foods from a variety of Southeast Asian countries.
Indian Street Food
As the second most populated country in the world, Indian food combines various diverse cultures and preferences. These different backgrounds and cultures can be observed through their street foods. Below, we’ll investigate some of the most popular types of Indian street food:
- Dabeli: Widely considered a popular snack food in India, dabeli was first introduced in the 1960s. It consists of a ladi pav, or bun, filled with a seasoned potato filling, chutney, and various garnishes including pomegranate or roasted peanuts. The filling can be spicy, tangy, or even sweet depending on your preferences.
- Kati roll: Sometimes spelled kathi roll, this popular street food originated in the 1930s and has since become enjoyed by people across the globe. The key components of a kati roll are kebabs and paratha bread. The kebab can be made from a variety of different meats including chicken, beef, or mutton, while paratha bread is a popular type of flatbread. Once it has been prepared, the dish is wrapped in paper and handed to the customer.
- Misal: There are two main variants of misal are misal pav and puneri misal. Misal pav is known for its spicy flavor and is served alongside a pav, which is a type of Indian bread roll. Conversely, puneri misal is traditionally thought of as a breakfast food, though it can also be enjoyed as a snack later in the day. Misal's nutritional value and inexpensive cost contribute toward it's popularity.
- Kachori: Kachori, sometimes spelled as kachauri or kachodi, is popular across India and parts of South Asia. This deep-fried street food can be prepared using all-purpose or whole wheat flour and can be found in several different variations. Some are dipped in syrup, others are flavored with peppers and chili powder, and some are even prepared with coconut.
Chinese Street Food
China, which spans over 3.7 million miles, boasts an extensive selection of street food. Every morning, city streets come alive with commuters, pedestrians, and street food vendors. With many different regions and climates, their cuisine reflects a variety of distinct flavors and food variations. Some of the most popular Chinese street foods include:
- Jianbing: Often referred to as Chinese crepes, jianbing (pronounced JEN-bing) is one of the most popular Chinese breakfasts. Vendors can be found in nearly every major city across the country. While many people might associate sweet flavors with crepes, jianbing offers a significantly different taste. The food can be prepared using several different topping combinations, with some of the most popular including eggs, scallions, ham, and onions.
- Jiaozi: Jiaozi is a type of dumpling which is typically enjoyed in China and other nearby countries. Though the dish is most synonymous with Chinese New Year, many people continue to enjoy it year-round. They are often filled with some combination of ground meat and vegetables and are sometimes served alongside sesame oil dip or black vinegar.
- Baozi: Also known as Chinese bread buns, baozi is available in two different variations: big buns and small buns. The big bun variety is typically served in street food settings, while the small bun variety is more common to find served in restaurants. Baozi is typically filled with meat or vegetables and can be enjoyed alongside vinegar, soy sauce, and other various dips.
- Chuan: Sometimes spelled as Chuan’r, this popular Chinese dish is similar to a kebab. It consists of pieces of meat that are placed on a skewer and roasted over a fire, though they can also be deep-fried in some cases. The most popular types of meat used for chuan are lamb, chicken, and pork. It’s important to note that this dish originates from Chinese-Islamic cuisine and is particularly popular with the Uyghur people.
Vietnamese Street Food
Vietnam offers a large selection of unique, flavorful, and affordable foods. These foods are perfectly exemplified through their street foods, which combine a long list of recognizable dishes with an assortment of under-the-radar options. Though street food can be found in many different places across Vietnam, it is perhaps most popular in open-air markets. These markets allow vendors, artisans, and more to sell to the community. Some of the most popular options include:
- Pho: Considered the national dish of Vietnam, pho is a type of soup dish prepared with rice noodles, meat, and broth. It is typically prepared with beef, but can sometimes be made with chicken. There are two different variations of pho in Vietnam: the Hanoi variation, also known as the northern variation, and the Saigon variation, also known as the southern variation. The key distinction between these two variations is the size of their noodles and the mix of herbs used to prepare them.
- Bun cha: Bun cha is a type of grilled Vietnamese meatball. It is made from pork and is often served alongside vermicelli noodles or rice. Other common bun cha mix-ins include pickled vegetables, fresh herbs, and crushed garlic or chili. The dish is also served with a lime dipping sauce.
- Xoi: Able to be served at breakfast, lunch, or dinner, xoi is a versatile street food that can be prepared in a variety of different ways. The dish consists of a bowl of rice which is mixed with various add-ins to create a delicious snack. Some of the most popular variations of xoi include xoi xeo, which consists of yellow rice topped with fried onion and mung beans, xoi ga, which is topped with steamed pieces of chicken, and xoi dua, which is prepared with sugar and sesame seeds.
- Cao lau: Cao lau is a type of Vietnamese noodle bowl that is most popular in the country’s Quang Nam province. The traditional ingredients required to prepare cao lau are rice noodles, meat, vegetables, and herbs. It’s important to note that in most cases, the rice has been soaked in lye water, giving it a unique texture and color.
Taiwanese Street Food
Taiwanese street food is influenced by a variety of different cuisines. Often found in night markets, street food in Taiwan reflects Taiwanese culture. Night markets, which can often span over large areas, offer a large selection of foods for visitors to choose from and have grown to become one of the most popular places to visit in the country. To learn about some of the most popular Taiwanese street foods, continue reading below:
- Gua bao: Sometimes called pork belly buns, gua bao (pronounced gwa bow) is popular across Asia, particularly in Singapore, Japan, and Taiwan. It is prepared by placing stewed meat (typically pork) on a steamed bun known as lotus bread. Gua bao is often prepared with pickled mustard greens and peanuts, though a variety of toppings can be added.
- Mochi: Often thought of as a Japanese dish, mochi is also popular in Taiwan. The dish is made from whole rice grains or glutinous rice which has been beaten into a type of flexible paste. Due to its versatility, mochi pairs well with many different ingredients and is available in several different variations. For example, in Taiwan it is common to serve mochi topped with peanuts or sesame seeds, while in other areas of the world it is prepared with rice grains, miso, or even red beans.
- Taro balls: Taro balls are a traditional Taiwanese dessert. As the name suggests, the key ingredient in taro balls is taro, a tropical plant that grows in Southeast Asia and the surrounding regions. Believed to be one of the earliest cultivated plants, taro has strong roots in Taiwanese culture. Taro balls are made by mixing water and sweet potato flower with taro, resulting in a soft and versatile dessert. They can be served hot or cold and are often accompanied with syrup or served on top of other Taiwanese desserts.
- Dorayaki: Another dessert that is popular in both Japan and Taiwan, dorayaki is traditionally prepared by combining red bean filling with two sweet pancakes. As is the case with many street foods, there isn't one specific set of toppings or mix-ins to go along with dorayaki. While some prefer red beans, others choose to fill dorayaki with ingredients such as cream, chocolate, and sweet potato.
Frequently Asked Questions
Whether you’re new to street food or are looking to improve your street food service, it’s important to stay educated on how to succeed. Below, we’ve included answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about street food businesses.
What Do I Need to Sell Food on the Street?
Having the right equipment and supplies for your street food business can put you in a position to succeed. Consider buying the following items to ensure you run a convenient and functional street food business:
- Food cart: Mobile food carts and kiosks make it easy to organize and display your foods while giving you a place to work from.
- Serving equipment: Depending on what kinds of food you offer, serving utensils such as tongs, ladles, and spatulas can help serve food efficiently.
- Disposables: Providing your customers with disposables like forks, straws, and paper plates can make it easier to enjoy food on the go.
- POS equipment: Having point of sale equipment such as a card reader or cash drawer on hand allows you to collect payments conveniently.
How to Get a Permit to Sell Food on the Street?
Similar to a food truck, street food vendors must obtain the proper permits and licenses to legally carry out their business. Before applying for a permit, be sure to contact your local government, as the necessities for acquiring a permit can vary depending on where you live. In most states, you are required to have a kitchen facility to prepare food and act as your primary address. You’ll also need to arrange a health inspection for the facility to verify it is up to local and state regulations. Once this has been completed, you can complete an application for a license. It’s important to note that in most cases you’ll need to pay an application or license fee.
From churros in Mexico to crepes in France, street food can be found across the globe and is a significant part of many different cultures. Accessible and affordable, these foods allow us to experience traditions from other countries in ways we can’t in our own. Whether you’re looking to start your own street food business, searching for inspiration for a new menu, or just looking to learn about how other countries eat, educating yourself on street food can be highly beneficial.