@robin_garrison Yum! Street food (and all food) in Asia is so so good. I need a trip back to that part of the world ASAP!
In culinary and health circles, fast food tends to get a bad rap (and for good reason—menu staples like potatoes fried in hydrogenated oil are pretty much irredeemable). And yet, who doesn’t have a hankering for quick, inexpensive, filling comfort fare from time to time?
If you think about it, the predecessor of modern fast food is simply “street food,” or quick-service cuisine. Before corporate chain conglomerates got into the business, it was culturally specific and even sometimes (gasp!) good for you. So, next time you’re traveling, skip the Dollar (er, Euro) Menu and try one of our favorite spots where you can get your “fast food” on, and get a taste of the local culture at the same time.
In Beijing, jian bing carts and dumpling stands are the counterpart to hot dog carts in U.S. cities like New York: cheap and convenient hubs for savory bites on the go. Kind of like a breakfast burrito, jian bing consists of a thin pancake filled with egg, you tiao (crispy bits of fried dough), spices, and salty sauce (hoisin or soy paste, depending on the cart).
You can also get fried dumplings (guo tie) at the ubiquitous dumpling stands, but if you prefer a steamed version and a classier ambiance, hit up Din Tai Fung—a Shanghainese dumpling chain that began in Taiwan—for its famed steamed soup dumplings (xiao long bao). The plump, hand-wrapped dumplings—filled with your choice of meat, seafood, and veggies—are lip-smackingly delicate, tender, and juicy.
It’s hard to imagine a holiday in London without a visit to a “chippy,” the local term for fish and chip shops. The iconic meal of battered, fried fish and fried potatoes has been around since the mid-1800s, when it was cooked up as a staple for the working classes. Debates swirl about which chippy was the first in London, but whatever the precise ranking, Rock and Sole Plaice was among the earliest opened. And judging by the perpetual crowds, it clearly has staying power!
Chip shop connoisseurs drool over the generous portions of hand-cut chunky fries, market-fresh fish (a variety of types beyond the basic cod and haddock is available), and perfectly seasoned, crispy batter. Grab an order to go or fight the hordes for a grease-spattered table.
Los Angeles, California
In a city where the car is king, fast food is practically a necessity. Convenience is definitely the name of the game at the aptly named In-N-Out Burger, California’s first drive-thru hamburger stand that made a name for itself over 60 years ago with its innovative car-friendly set-up. Today, the fantastic burgers, fries, and shakes remain a cut above other chains.
With so much cultural diversity, though, Los Angeles is also a place to think outside the bun for a fast food fix. Slurp up a bowl of tasty ramen noodles in kotteri broth at Little Tokyo’s quick-service ramen den Daikokuya. Or, bite into the Mexican-Asian fusion of fish tacos and Ahi rice at Wahoo’s Fish Tacos, where the laid-back, surfer-themed atmosphere is pure Cali.
New York, New York
Even though New York is a culinary giant, the fast pace of the city often doesn’t leave much time for leisurely dining. No matter: You can still get your fill of quality fare on the run. In Midtown East, a quick yet flavorful lunch can be had at Menchanko-Tei, Japanese for “mixed noodle house.” If you’re dining solo, belly up to the bar for noodle soup or the rustic oden.
New York’s not above a good, old-fashioned burger, either; the retro snack bar Shake Shack turns out one of the best renditions in town. The epically long lines mean that this isn’t always “fast” food, but the scrumptious burgers, hot dogs, frozen custard, and (of course) shakes are well worth the wait.
In a city as culinarily sophisticated as Paris, it may seem antithetical to opt for fast food (unless your idea of fast food is popping some brie and a baguette into your bicycle basket). But there’s an imported Middle Eastern delicacy worth eating on the street for: falafel. In Le Marais, a historically Jewish area of the city, you’ll find a concentration of shops hawking the tasty pita sandwiches. Our favorite is L’As du Fallafel (or, as we say en anglais, “The Falafel Ace”). The fried-to-perfection chickpea fritters are topped with your choice of hummus, pickled cabbage, cucumber, fried eggplant, and harissa, all smooshed into an oven-fresh pita—a messy yet portable package for wandering the cobbled streets nearby. Even Lenny Kravitz is a regular customer. (Seriously: Check out the photo shrine.)
Even in the hot, sticky summers, one of the most popular meals in Taipei is hong xiao niu rou mian, or beef noodle soup, the unofficial national dish of Taiwan. No-frills spots Yong Kang Beef Noodles and Lao Zhang Beef Noodles are both no-fail choices for some of that tender beef, chewy noodles, and rich broth.
But even if you anticipate a hearty lunch, don’t skip the most important meal of the day: breakfast. At Yong He Dou Jiang, you can grab and go with you tiao, fried dough sticks dipped in sweet or savory soy milk (hot or cold). Not enough grease for you? Then wrap your you tiao in shao bing, a savory pancake, or get it covered with sticky rice and fried shredded pork (fan tuan). Sure beats a rubbery egg sandwich from a drive-thru!
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