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What Is Street Food?

Street food is a fast and easy way to get an affordable and delicious hot meal. And most people think of food trucks as the place to go for it.

But street food is an ages-old offering from cultures around the world.

Today, we’re diving into everything you want to know about it and some of our favorite street food cities.

Let’s dig in!

About Street Food

Most of the time, street food is cooked in front of you by a streetside stall or food truck vendor. The menus vary depending on the city or part of the world you’re in. In most cases, the same people preparing your food own the business. So when you order from a street cart, you’re supporting a local business that highlights the flavors and dishes of the community.

Believe it or not, street food has a long history that dates to ancient times. It’s believed to have begun in the Middle East, where vendors would sell food to travelers and people passing by on the street. Over time, it became popular in other parts of the world. 

Street food was often necessary for people who had to eat on the move. While for others, it was simply a convenient and affordable option after a hard day of work. Street carts, stalls, and trucks are popular worldwide today. It has become a part of a community’s identity, with unique food and flavors associated with a particular place. 

What Are the Benefits of Street Food?

One of street food’s main benefits is that it’s often more affordable than food served in restaurants. This makes it an excellent option for people on a budget. 

It’s also often fresh and made to order. Because of this, many people find street food more flavorful and enjoyable than pre-packaged or pre-made food. 

The vendors are almost always a part of the local community. When you purchase your meal from them, you’re supporting a small business and helping a local family and economy. 

And visiting street carts or trucks is a fun way to try new and unique dishes you might not be able to find at a traditional restaurant. 

Pro Tip: If you’re a foodie, you’ll love eating at one of these 7 Most Unique Restaurants in the USA.

Two people buying street food sandwiches
Cure your cravings by grabbing some delicious street food.

Are There Disadvantages to Street Food?

Typically food carts have a small menu and limited items, so there may not be something for everyone at a particular spot. 

Another disadvantage of street food is that it may not always be as healthy as food prepared in a restaurant or that you’d prepare for yourself. Many street vendors serve dishes that may be high in calories, fat, salt, and butter. 

Also, as you can imagine from the name, there may not be anywhere nearby for you to sit. So you may have to stand while eating or eat while you’re on the move. 

The drinks from street food vendors are often expensive. If you can wait, you can usually get a cheaper beverage from a grocery or convenience store. 

A big concern about eating street food revolves around health and safety standards. When possible, make sure the food you order is fresh. And certainly avoid food typically served cold that’s been sitting out at room temperature. 

It’s also helpful to avoid ordering unpackaged juice or water. If the health standards raise a red flag for you, keep moving on to another stall.

What Is the Difference Between Street Food and Fast Food?

Street food is almost always cooked fresh in front of you. In contrast, fast food is most likely to be mass-produced at a factory, then shipped to the restaurant, which quickly cooks or heats the food when ordered. 

Food carts or trucks are typically owned and run by community residents. While some fast food restaurants are locally owned, they’re almost always a franchise whose menus and prices are determined by a large corporation. 

Both street food and fast food can provide a quick and cheap meal, but that’s the only similarity you’ll find between the two. 

If you’re looking for fresh food and a way to support local businesses, street food is an excellent place to start. When visiting a new city, food carts allow you to try new things and experience the culture of that community. 

Couple eating street food together
From coast to coast, there are many amazing spots for street food in the USA.

Where Are the Best Street Food Destinations?

In the U.S., it’s often food trucks, rather than traditional stalls or carts, that serve some of the best street food. It’s hard to choose the greatest destinations as each is as unique as the community they serve. However, we can highlight some great cities that offer fun varieties.

Nashville, Tennessee

Originally featured on ABC’s hit reality show, Shark Tank, you can now find Cousins’ Main Lobsters on the streets of Nashville. This unique concept takes the traditional northeastern lobster roll and brings it to the South as part of a new street food culture in the Music City. 

You also can’t go wrong with the Grilled Cheeserie. Who doesn’t love a fantastic grilled cheese? This food truck serves it up with substance and style. And their large portions and pimento mac and cheese sandwich make this a can’t-miss destination. 

Deg Thai is another amazing concept transforming the streets of Nashville. If you’re feeling adventurous, try the Massama Curry Beef served on Asian flatbread. 

San Francisco, California

San Francisco is a wonderland of multicultural restaurants, and the street food scene is just as strong. No matter what part of the city you visit, you’re sure to find some great options. But here are a couple of our favorites. 

Curry Up Now can be found throughout the area. However, they’re famous for being the city’s first Indian food truck, and their wide varieties of curry offer a lovely selection for everyone. 

If you’re a fan of delicious rotisserie chicken, you definitely want to try the unique offerings from Roli Roti

Also on the don’t-miss list is Senor Sisig. Their offerings of both Mexican and Filipino dishes are the perfect example of the amazing food experience you can find in San Francisco. 

Miami, Florida

Sunny South Beach is the ideal place to taste all that Latin culture offers. 

El Rey de las Fritas provides a unique spin on burgers and fries, delivering a Cuban twist with sauteed onions and shoestring fries. 

If you’re looking for authentic Puerto Rican food, you don’t want to miss El Rincon de Coqui. While there, try the three-meat sandwich called the “Tripleta” and enjoy a meat lover’s dream. 

Rounding out the Latin offerings is Mr. Good Stuff. This fantastic food truck offers homemade stuffed and grilled cornmeal patties known as “Lunas.”  

Pro Tip: Before you grab some street food and hop in your car for a road trip, make sure you Avoid These Foods on Your Travel Day.

Street food being cooked
Enjoy a mouthwatering treat by grabbing a bite from a street food vendor.

What Is the Most Popular Street Food?

It should be no surprise that the most popular street food in America is dozens of versions of hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, mac and cheese, and tacos. But this list changes based on the country or part of the world you’re visiting. 

You’ll find cheesesteaks, lobster rolls, and pizza when you’re in the Northeast. But, when you’re in the South, you can belly up to barbecue sandwiches, tacos, nachos, and more. 

The most popular street food in any city will be what the locals love and embrace. Of course, it’s an American tradition to enjoy a hot dog, whether covered in mustard or smothered in chili. 

Explore Local Food and Support Small Businesses

Street food is a wonderful way to grab a quick and affordable meal on the go. Embrace the local culture by asking the locals what they love and trying something new. Some of the best dining experiences come from supporting a small business where the owner is your chef and personal food guide. 

No matter where you’re exploring, there’s an excellent chance you can find a street food vendor providing unique food adventures.

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