Dodgy food that is purchased on the side of the street always brings a tourist a bit closer to the city they visit but with an edge of danger as the unregulated local stands can bring spice, stomach aches, or both. These offer cheap ways to sample the local variety and a unique inside experience into the culture. While trying to be smart about the selection, the nature of buying street meat is always unexpected and there is a potential it can introduce a quick diet regiment.
Okinawa "Dirty Ice Cream"
Not nearly as bad as the name implies, Okinawa dirty ice cream is locally made cones that are available from the side of Oki’s Route 58. Slightly questionable but very delicious on a hot and humid summer day is the tasty "dirty" ice cream. Although unregulated, this summer snack was always a tasty treat that could be enjoyed without fear of later repercussions. The flavors of ice cream in Okinawa vary slightly from most traditional stores and it is definitely worth trying out the sweet potato and green tea flavors at least once.
The loud bustling streets of Bangkok welcome millions of tourists each year who are introduced to a vast selection of food options. While wandering the chaotic roads and seeing the plentiful sites, there is a large assortment of street food available to sample. From fresh blended smoothies to crunchy creepy crawlies, there is always something interesting being fried and served up. Naturally during my stay in Thailand I tried a large variety of the street offerings for the unique tastes and the chance to try something for the first time.
After working my way through the markets and eating mostly fried pad thai street food for my dinners, I thought that I had sampled almost everything available. However, on my way to the airport I saw a stand that was selling fried scorpions on a stick and naturally I had to snatch one up. Quite chewy and a little hairy, I was not impressed by the texture or flavor but thankfully managed to eat the whole thing without even a swig of water to wash it down.
One of the Philippines local delicacies is a balut- a nearly fully-formed goose egg that is served similar to a boiled egg typically in a small plastic baggie. The first time I think that I saw a balut was on Fear Factor and yet while I watched the participants gag through it, I didn't think that it seemed so bad. However, years later when I was handed one in a kind gesture I was far less certain of my ability to eat an entire one.
Quickly after being given a balut, I decided to add the salt and vinegar in the bag and eat the whole thing in one bite. I certainly underestimated the size of the bite that would require and struggled to crunch through the full egg. However, as a gift it would have been quite rude to spit it out and thankfully I was able to hold the whole egg in my mouth and finish it. While I will not be going for seconds, it is certainly one of the quintessential street food experiences in Southeast Asia.
Cote D’Ivoire BBQ Chicken
While the balut was certainly challenging to eat, probably one of the sketchier street foods I have eaten was in Cote D’Ivoire trying the street side bbq chicken. After doing an afternoon tour of a local market and watching the preparation of cassava and chicken, I stopped at a local stand to sample some of Abidjan’s best bbq. Watching the meat get mixed in sauce and grilled, I swore to drink as much beer as possible with dinner and pop a Cipro immediately after consuming the meal.
The birds that were used looked like they were the patient x for the avian bird flu and the cooks pulled the meat from some uninsulated boxes before throwing them in a large mixing bowl where ingredients were generously added by hand. The blend of chicken, beer, and very hot spicy hot sauce must have done the trick though thankfully as I was able to climb on the plane a few hours late and peacefully sleep on the journey home.
Congo Meat Skewers
Another one of the potentially very bad decisions was trying several meat kebabs from open fire pits on the side of the road in the Republic of Congo. What looked certainly unsanitary but smelled phenomenal were large kebabs of mixed meat grilling on platters over the fire. Walking back to the hotel from a light dinner, my friend Mia and I decided to try some of these more local varieties and ordered what we were told was beef and chicken skewers.
The flavoring was fantastic and surpassed even the “local” restaurant we had stopped at for dinner. While the locals were quite amused to watch us try the meats, we were quite pleased with the flavor over the somewhat questionable fires. We stopped at several of the small stands and plot the kebabs so that we could sample a wider variety of the street meats. Again, perhaps due to the beers and hot sauce, but thankfully neither of us got sick!
Vietnam night markets
Many southeast Asian countries offer an amazing spread of foods from savory to sweet at their large chaotic street markets. The markets in Hanoi were no different and offered everything from traditional kebabs of mystery meat sizzling in pungent appetizing flavors to sweet gooey treats. Everything imaginable is offered at these energetic markets and they are always fascinating to explore and sample through.
As one of the Vietnamese classics, Pho is certainly one of the most popular offerings, definitely one of the tastiest, and basically required to at least once while in the country. Add some of the numerous spices available at the stands and pair it with one of the local beers and you are set for a fantastic and super cheap dinner!
Seafood in Senegal
Several of these street food examples on the list appear to be more of a cautionary tale, but some of the street side seafood that is available in Dakar is certainly one of the tastier on this list! While there are certainly some roadside stands that should be skipped in the city, there are a handful of local restaurants by the Embassy that literally pull up the fresh catch, rinse it, and deliver it to the table.
We ordered a variety tray in order to sample several of the different types available but something got lost in translation and we ended up with about 7 different trays of seafood being piled high on the table. There were no complaints from the group though as we ate our way through almost all of the platters they brought. This is definitely a must to get the freshest and cheapest sea urchins and mussels in the city.
Takoyaki in Osaka
Small fried balls of minced octopus and herbs are cooked and served fresh on the side of most street corners in Osaka or at larger festivals around the country. These delicious snacks are then brushed in sauce (similar to a teriyaki), drizzled with mayonnaise, and sprinkled with green onion or dried bonito. They are an extremely tasty meal with the light fluffy puffs and hint of seafood. Overall they are definitely worth sampling during one of the many pop-up festivals or after a long night of drinking in the downtown Osaka district, which is where it originated from in the 1930s.
A grossly satisfying treat that is quite popular in Canada is their poutine. These fries are filled with chunks of cheese and smothered in gravy making them equally delicious and un-nutritious. After ordering mine and seeing the amount of cheese and gravy that they doused the fries in, I began to second guess the decision. However, after digging into the mess I found it hard to put down my fork. Despite enjoying the dish, I would definitely recommend getting it to share as the caloric overload was way too much for just one person.
While poutine is not exclusively a street food item, it certainly meets all the criteria for a local dish that is relatively questionable yet undeniably tasty.
Rolex in Uganda
The first time I was asked if I wanted a rolex in Uganda, I was quite confused. However, as we pulled over to a roadside stand where small egg roll-ups were being freshly grilled, I quickly changed my mind and ordered two. Similar to a savory crepe, rolex (or roll-eggs) are freshly made bread that are grilled with cooked eggs inside and any variety of add ons- typically lots of salt, pepper, and fresh tomatoes. For a few dollars it is possible to order a whole mess of these that are delicious and quite filling! No trip through Entebbe or Kampala is quite complete without at least one rolex meal.