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street food

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Line-ups for food are a traveler’s best friend.  Have I mentioned this before?  I have?  A million times?  Well, it’s true.

The latest line-based discovery: a street food stand called Uncle Bean, which serves up some seriously delicious tofu-based desserts.

There’s a few things on the menu, but most people seemed to be ordering the tau fu fa, which is an incredibly creamy tofu pudding.  They have a few different syrups you can top it with (the tofu itself isn’t sweet at all); I got the brown sugar ginger.

Uncle Bean in Kuala Lumpur

It was really, really good.  The tofu is silky and amazing; it doesn’t taste like much, but that’s what the syrup is for.  A lot of ginger-based desserts are a bit too overpowering for me, but the syrup here managed to strike a perfect balance of sweetness with a very subtle ginger kick.  Bonus: it cost about 50 cents Canadian.  I could eat a million of these.

When I sat down to eat fish noodle soup (a Vietnamese dish called bun ca) at around eleven in the morning, I started to wonder: is this a mistake?  Maybe eating a potentially very pungent fishy soup for breakfast isn’t a great idea?

Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi, Vietnam

Well, it turns out it absolutely was a great idea, because the bun ca that they served at a placed called Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi was phenomenal.

Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi, Vietnam

The broth, in particular, was something special: it was mildly seafoody, with a zingy, almost sour flavour that was given some added depth thanks to the fresh herbs, particularly dill.

The chewy noodles and crispy veggies worked great together, and there was a very generous amount of fried fish chunks.

Bun Ca Sam Cay Si in Hanoi, Vietnam

They must have fried the hell out of those things, because they somehow managed to retain their crunchy exterior right down to the last piece.  And yet the inside was tender and flaky.  I don’t know how they did it, but it was pretty amazing.

You know you’re in the right city when you can just randomly stumble across a place that’s this delicious.

How delicious, you ask?  Extremely delicious.

Mango pancakes in Hong Kong

I wasn’t even sure what I was ordering.  I held up two fingers (my brother is here on this leg of the trip, so I’m ordering for two), just assuming I’d wind up with waffles.  He asked “mango pancake?” I nodded, and we were off to the races.

Mango pancakes in Hong Kong

Everything about this was shockingly good — from the fresh and fluffy pancake, to the satisfyingly tart sauce, to the chunks of absolutely perfect mango.  The very sweet, creamy mango works great with the pancake, with the slightly sour sauce cutting the sweetness from the fruit.

I wish I knew what this place was called, but trust me — if you ever find yourself in Hong Kong, just wander around until you find it.  It’s totally worth it.

If heaven exists, it probably looks something like the Nishiki Market in Kyoto: a seemingly endless street market filled with one vendor after another serving up delicious-looking food.

Nishiki Market in Kyoto, Japan

If it’s food-related, you’ll probably find it here.  Aside from all of the enticing prepared food, there’s a smorgasbord of various meats, seafood, fruits, and vegetables  — it’s a one-stop shop for all things food.

Nishiki Market in Kyoto, Japan

I came here without anything in mind, basically just looking for whatever stall looked the busiest.  And there was no contest: this bustling takoyaki stand was clearly where it was at.

Nishiki Market in Kyoto, Japan

For the uninitiated, takoyaki is basically a ball of dough with a piece of octopus in the middle, typically served as street food.  They had a few different varieties, including one with cheese, which I had no idea was even a thing.  Obviously that’s what I got.

Nishiki Market in Kyoto, Japan

I like takoyaki, though it’s never really been my favourite.  Most of the ones I’ve tried have been one-note doughy, with a rubbery piece of octopus inside.

Nishiki Market in Kyoto, Japan

The ones here, on the other hand, were delightfully crispy on the outside, creamy and a little bit gooey on the inside from the cheese, and contained a surprisingly tender piece of octopus.  The sweet sauce on top does a great job of balancing out the savouriness of the balls.

Takoyaki is an Osaka specialty, so I’ll obviously be getting them again when I go there, but they’re going to have a very, very hard time living up to this.  Takoyaki perfection.

You know how I know I like Busan? I hadn’t even checked into my hotel yet, and I had already seen several street food vendors dispensing tasty treats.

I passed one vendor selling these cakey-looking things with an egg on top — it looked good and smelled sweet, and I couldn’t resist.  I didn’t even know what it was, but I knew that I had to eat it.

Street food in Busan, South Korea

I mean, the hotel wasn’t going anywhere, so why not?

It was quite tasty — it’s kind of like a very sweet piece of fresh cornbread, only with an egg on top and a little bit of a ketchup-like sauce.  I could have done without that sauce, though it did add a bit of a savoury kick to cut the sweetness.

I just had a wing that was stuffed with rice, and I need to say that whoever invented this is a goddamned genius.  Wings are good.  Rice is good.  Why not stuff one into the other?

Why not indeed.

Stuffed chicken wing in Beijing, China

I got this from a street vendor, and it was even more delightful than I had hoped.  I thought I’d have to navigate around bones and cartilage (I love Chinese food, but their insistence on making many dishes a minefield of bones and cartilage can be a bit vexing), but nope: the genius who invented this thought of that.  It’s completely deboned, aside from the very bottom part of the wing, so you can just hold on to that and eat it like a hot dog on a stick.

Stuffed chicken wing in Beijing, China

The skin, which has been glazed and sprinkled with sesame seeds, is crispy and tasty.  The wing is filled with sticky rice with little bits of veggies, which is surprisingly spicy (it’s definitely not just plain rice).   The crispy, sticky-sweet exterior contrasts very nicely with the dense, spicy interior.  It seems like a novelty — like something you might get at the carnival — but it’s surprisingly delicious.

Eating Peking duck in Beijing is a no-brainer.  You’ve gotta do it.

However, since it typically involves a whole duck being served over multiple courses, it’s a difficult dish to enjoy solo.

Enter: this place (this was a random discovery, so I don’t know what it was called because it was all in Chinese):

Duck wrap on the street in Beijing, China

They serve individual Peking duck wraps — a perfect street food snack.

Duck wrap on the street in Beijing, China

It was quite tasty, though the ratio of veggies to meat was a bit off, and it wasn’t particularly better than any of the versions of Peking duck I’ve had back home.

Still, if I don’t get a chance to go to a legit Peking duck restaurant (and I haven’t ruled that out — food coma be damned), then at least I’ve checked it off the list.

I was already a pretty big fan of the stroopwafels you can get back home — the round, thin discs of crispy, chewy, caramel-filled waffles that usually come in a cellophane-wrapped pile of five or six.  They’re delicious.

But my stroopwafel love has been kicked to the next level, because I just had a freshly-made one in Amsterdam, and it was everything.  It was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long, long time.

Original Stroopwafels in Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s no surprise that it’s great.  It’s basically a thin, slightly chewy and slightly crispy waffle encasing a very generous slathering of rich, gooey caramel.  When the guy gave it to me he warned me that I need to keep it horizontal as much as I could, because the caramel would leak out, and yeah.  There’s a lot of caramel in there.  It’s ridiculous.

Original Stroopwafels in Amsterdam, Netherlands

It’s so good.

You’d think it would be too sweet, but the pastry does a really great job of counterbalancing the sticky caramel.  And the caramel is so good — sometimes caramel can basically just taste like gooey sugar, but the caramel here has an addictively rich flavour.  It’s perfect.

As much as I liked the bagged version, I don’t know if I can ever go back.  Comparing fresh to bagged is like comparing Chips Ahoy to a freshly-baked homemade chocolate chip cookie.  They’re almost not even the same thing.