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BlogGlobal cuisineThe best street foods to eat in Southeast Asia
Global cuisine

The best street foods to eat in Southeast Asia

Jan 17, 2024 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

Southeast Asia is food lover’s paradise. This geographic region packs a punch when it comes to flavor, from sweet and sour to spicy and savory. And the best part is, you don’t need a reservation to take your taste buds on a culinary tour. Some of the best food in Southeast Asia is actually street food.

Let’s define what we mean by street food. By no means does the phrase “street food” mean lesser quality. Southeast Asian street food refers to a dish you’d be more likely to find at various markets (rather than in a restaurant) where each food stall vendor adds their own special flare. In other words, the best street foods are local favorites that meet demands of comfort and convenience. They’re the beloved dishes and snacks we would still crave even if we’d lived in the region for years.

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Thailand

Vietnam

Cambodia

Laos

Indonesia

Thailand

Taste these Thailand street foods on our Thailand tours

Thai street food is all about combining the intense flavors of spicy, sour, sweet, and salty. Borrowing culinary traditions from neighboring countries, Thailand puts its own unique touch on curries, noodle dishes, and more.

Pad thai

Stir-fried noodles

This iconic Thai dish was born out of necessity following a rice shortage during WWII. It was introduced in Bangkok—one of the best food cities in the world—and named to inspire patriotism. Pad thai is made of rice noodles stir-fried with vegetables, eggs, tofu, and sometimes additional protein like shrimp. It’s garnished with crushed peanuts and bean sprouts for an added crunch. This dish is full of the sharp flavors Thais love, like fish sauce, dried shrimp, fresh lime, hot chilis, and the kicker—tamarind paste—for that extra sweet and sour punch.

Khao niao mamuang

Mango sticky rice

Freshly sliced mango sits atop glutinous rice, bathed (or drowned, if you prefer) in sweet coconut milk. The warm rice and cool, fresh mango make for an exciting combination. Some vendors also sprinkle on sesame seeds or fried mung beans that add a delightful crunch to the dessert.

Larb moo kua

Spicy minced pork

Pronounced “laab,” larb translates to “salad,” but this dish is far from what comes to mind when we typically think of salad. For starters, it’s all meat and no lettuce. This prominently protein pork dish is seasoned with fresh herbs, salty fish sauce, and tangy lime juice. If you’re not feeling purely carnivorous, you can order rice and fresh vegetables to round out your meal. If you’re looking to try even more delicious bites, check out more tasty foods to try on your trip to Thailand.

Vietnam

Taste these Vietnam street foods on our Vietnam tours

Vietnamese street food plays on contradictions. Fresh herbs, like Vietnamese mint, and pungent flavors, like fish sauce, come together to take your taste buds from one extreme to the other.

Phở

Rice noodle soup

This dish, pronounced “fuh,” is a staple of Southeast Asia street food. Pho is a soup made with either chicken or beef and rice noodles and is topped with bean sprouts and a fresh herb mix of cilantro, basil, and mint. It’s a traditional breakfast in Vietnam, so locals grab a bowl as part of their commute, hopping off their scooters and grabbing a stool to sit and eat.

Bánh mì

Pork sandwich

This savory pork sandwich combines bright Vietnamese flavors, like cilantro, chili, and pickled veggies, with a crusty French baguette spread with butter and pate—a culinary influence remaining from French occupation. Bonus tip: After enjoying this dish during your free time in Ho Chi Minh City, quench your thirst with a Vietnamese iced coffee (called cà phê đá). It’s a strong, drip coffee that’s poured over ice and sweetened with condensed milk.

Bánh xèo

Savory pancake

Another food showcasing cultural fusion is this delicious crepe-style treat, named for the sound the sizzling batter makes as it hits the hot pan. This savory pancake is made from a blend of rice flour, turmeric, and coconut milk and features traditional fillings of onions, bean sprouts, pork, and shrimp. These are often very large and meant for sharing by tearing apart and dipping in sauce. Rip, dip, and enjoy.

Cambodia

Taste these Cambodia street foods on our Cambodia tours

Cambodian street food provides a yin and yang of sour and sweet. Commonly used fish paste adds umami while ingredients like palm sugar, tamarind, and lime bring tartness.

Num chet chien

Fried banana nuggets

Crunchy on the outside and gooey on the inside, this tasty dessert is made of deep-fried ripe bananas wrapped in spring roll paper. They can be served with sweet condiments, like chocolate sauce, or with a little spice, like Kampot pepper ice cream. But the classic recipe—topped with sesame seeds and powdered sugar—is pretty hard to beat.

Bai sach chrouk

Rice and pork

Perhaps akin to bacon and eggs in the U.S., this is a favorite breakfast in Cambodia. It’s a simple but delicious dish made of grilled pork and rice, served with pickled vegetables. The flavor lies in the marinade of coconut milk, soy sauce, fish sauce, lime, garlic, and Kampot pepper. It’s notably difficult to find later in the day, so wake up early and join morning rush hour to taste it.

Lort cha

Stir-fried noodles

Cambodia’s classic stir fry uses short rice noodles, or pin noodles, sauteed on high heat, which gives the tender noodles a nice char. Bean sprouts, green onions, chives, garlic, and beef are added to the mix, then it’s often topped with a fried egg and as much red chili paste as your heart (or tongue) desires.

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Laos

Taste these Laos street foods on our Laos tour

Due to a shared border and cultural similarities, Laos and Northern Thailand have many common foods—especially with the popularity of Isan food from the largest region of Thailand with ethnic Lao origins. While the popularity of Laotian street food extends beyond the country’s borders, nothing beats the real thing.

Khao jee

Grilled sticky rice cake

Sticky rice is a staple food of Laos because it’s so filling and versatile—so you'll find it everywhere. This version involves shaping the rice into a patty and coating it in egg wash to give it a nice crispy exterior. Part of the reason this handheld snack is popular is because it’s easy to eat on the go.

Sai oua

Spicy pork sausage

You can find links of this regional sausage hanging in the stalls of many market vendors. It’s often served grilled, yielding a slightly charred and crisp bite with a juicy middle. It packs a little bit of heat due to the blend of chiles, lemongrass, cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, and galangal—a root similar to ginger with citrusy undertones.

Kanom krok

Coconut pancakes

If you’re craving a sweet treat, opt for these bite-size coconut pancakes with a crunchy outside and soft center. Our staff can vouch that these melt-in-your-mouth morsels are a must-try on our Grand Tour of Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia & Thailand.

“Luang Prabang, Laos, is packed with charming cafes, but you’ll find some of the city’s best eats in the streets,” said staffer Lindsay. “If you eat only one thing while you’re there, let it be a bagful of warm coconut pancakes. Street vendors at local markets make the pancakes to order in special cast-iron griddle pans that give them their half-dome shape. They’re slightly sweet, pillowy on the inside, and—thanks to that hot cast-iron pan—perfectly golden and just a little bit crispy on the outside. They’re small, too, which makes them perfect for snacking while you stroll.”

Indonesia

Taste these Indonesia street foods on our Indonesia tour

Indonesian street food showcases rich, complex flavors that have a subtle smoky spice. In fact, chiles are used in most dishes, so if you like it hot, this is the place for you.

Gado gado

Mixed salad

The name of this dish translates to “mix mix” and combines a little bit of everything. Protein like tofu, tempeh, and boiled eggs, are stirred into a variety of vegetables (often raw or boiled) like carrots, cabbage, green beans, potatoes, cucumbers, and lettuce. Everything is tossed together with a thick, savory peanut sauce and topped with crunchy shrimp crackers.

Nasi goreng

Fried rice

While a version of fried rice can be found in many countries, this one has a distinct smoky, caramelized flavor that comes from sweet soy sauce and shrimp paste. It’s typically topped with a fried egg.

Rujak

Fruit salad

Not your average fruit salad, this dish combines fresh fruit (and vegetables, depending on your definition) with a spicy palm sugar dressing. Typically, it’s made of tropical fruits like water apple, pineapple, mango, cucumber, jicama, and sometimes pomelo or starfruit. It’s a little sweet, a little spicy, and completely refreshing.

Ready to taste the best street food in Southeast Asia for yourself? Check out our Asia tours.


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About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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