How are the winners selected?
This is not a ‘vote for your favourite’ competition. Finding the Best World Street Food needs comparison.Fortunately, a judging panel, including the likes of chef Anthony Bourdain have done the ‘travel and test’ task for you. With more than ten million street food vendors worldwide, it’s a pretty challenging task. That’s why the panel of judges is made up of people who are widely travelled. They’re commentators and writers, food celebrities and professionals and this is what they look for:
- ingredients sourcing
- food preparation
- basic hygiene
- quality and flavour of food.
Other factors include:
- job creation
- opportunities for locals, including those who are displaced or disadvantaged.
Who are the top fifty in 2017?
Singapore takes both the top spot (Hill Street Tai Hwa Bak Chor Mee, signature dish of Tai Hwa Eating House) and number 50. Altogether the City State takes an incredible fourteen of the places with nearest competitor Indonesia taking out seven spots. Also making the list with six is Malaysia, Thailand and Philippines have five each, China has four and Vietnam three. US and Mexico have two spots each and Taiwan and India have one each.
Before you get upset about your favourite stall or country missing the cut, everyone reading this will have a list of places that are ‘way better for sure!’. We’re surprised to read for example that Taiwan has only one spot. And that’s not even in Taipei, home of the amazing night markets with a huge array of street food.
Making your own ‘best list’
What you like might not be what others have decided is the best. While it’s fair to say lots of people can’t be too wrong, don’t assume that the panelists have compared their choice with thousands of others. They have also chosen them from countries they have visited, which you may not have. Here are a few suggestions to find the best food, wherever you are:
Be brave – try something you’ve never tried before
Oyster Omlette is clearly a favourite with the panelists. It features no less than three times – No 50 in Singapore No 21 (Hoy Tord Chao Lay) in Bangkok, and No 17. Sai Tin Hang Or Luak (Oyster Omelette) in Guangdong. They are all made in a similar way, using small oysters in a thin batter with lots of egg. Basic but good!
Laksa is a dish that means something different to locals depending on where they’re from, across Singapore and Malaysia. In Penang, it means a fish based, assam (tamarind) flavoured white noodle soup. In other states it’s a curry based soup with yellow noodles. Sarawak laksa comes served with prawns. Try them all, wherever you are.
The stall with the longest queue isn’t necessarily the best
What it means is just that it’s popular. Maybe because it really is great, or is it the best at promoting itself?
An example: A very popular Malaysian desert is Ais Kacang (Ice Kachang), with or without cendol (chendol). Sweet, but a great way of cooling down on a hot afternoon. Ice kachang is a mix of kidney beans, creamed corn, crushed peanuts and chendol under shaved ice, flavoured with red and brown syrup poured on top. Chendol purists will opt for the pandan flavoured noodles alone under the shaved ice, with coconut milk (santan) and gula melaka (palm syrup).
They are both common, but there is intense rivalry between two stalls in Lebuh Keng Kwee in George Town Penang. One, with long lines and many other outlets is very well promoted as the ‘famous’ one. The other one has a shorter line, but having tried both, the quieter one is the one this writer prefers. It’s also family run.
Ask the locals
Ask about the local specialties, if you are able to talk with a real local resident. If you don’t already know what they are, they will be able to tell you. If you do, they will have the experience to point you to their favourites. We discovered great places to eat (and less expensive) in Prague by chatting with our landlady and in Vienna, we wanted to try the famed Sachertorte, a chocolate cake creation that is famous partly because of disputes in its history. Our landlady suggested we try the version (though they can’t call it Sachertorte) at the neighbourhood cafe, Cafe Zartyl. She assured us it was every bit as tasty and way less expensive that the two tourist ‘originals’. It was good and the Viennese coffee was the best we’d had.
If you’re looking for Oyster Omelette which seems to be the most beloved of the World Street Food panelists’ choices….. Taipei (which should have many many more vendors in the ‘Best’ list) has a famous one in the Ning Xia night market in Datong district. The cook is a real performer when in the mood, and while the omelette was not too bad, it was drowned in a sweetish sauce which spoiled the subtle flavours.
If in doubt…
Go back to the list above. The panelists weren’t wrong with their criteria. The place must be clean and the ingredients fresh and good quality. If the pots look ‘well used’ it’s a good clue that the stall has been around a while and the cook has experience.