World's best fast food for people who don't like fast food - and where to find them

If you love to eat, then you love to snack. Because why limit yourself to just three meals a day? Why not make this travelling life a moveable feast, a smorgasbord of delightful, edible titbits that just never ends?

For travellers, snacks are ideal. They're great as little nibbles to keep your energy up between meals. They're also the perfect way to try as much of the local food as possible without exploding, to sample the culture and understand the cuisine without packing on too many kilos. And if you're travelling on a budget, snack foods are your wallet-friendly sustenance sorted out.

The concept of small bites is also perfect for those travellers who enjoy trying local food, but don't want to dedicate their entire holiday to the pursuit of sustenance. Some meals, particularly in Europe, can chew up two or three hours of your day at a time. Not everyone wants to commit to that.

Enter, the humble snack. Think of this as fast food for those people who don't, traditionally, enjoy fast food. These are mini-meals that run the full gamut from healthy to heart-stopping, from simple to sophisticated – and they all taste delicious.

 

THE DISH

HOT DOGS, COPENHAGEN, DENMARK

WHAT IS IT At its most basic, a frank in a roll – though in Denmark it's much more.

WHY WE LOVE IT Don't tell anyone from the US, but the Danes might just be the world's hot dog kings. This snack is taken seriously in Copenhagen, where rolling street food carts dish up dogs topped with things such as pickled cabbage, bacon compote, shaved foie gras and black truffles.

WHERE TO GET IT Try Johns Hotdog Deli in the Copenhagen district of Kodbyen, where the do-it-yourself condiment stand is a thing of beauty.

THE DETAILS See visitcopenhagen.com

THE DISH

KATI ROLLS, KOLKATA, INDIA

WHAT IS IT The grilled, spiced meat of a shish kebab topped with fried onions and wrapped in a flaky paratha.

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WHY WE LOVE IT India has far too many delicious bites to cover in a small entry like this (though samosas and vada pav, a Mumbai dish of spiced potato in a bread roll, deserve a mention). Let's concentrate on Kolkata's signature snack, the kati roll, which takes on many forms with many flavours, but it's always cheap and it's always sensationally tasty.

WHERE TO GET IT Kati rolls were invented in the 1930s by the cooks at Nizam's Restaurant, and they're still turning out some of the finest in Kolkata.

THE DETAILS See nizams-restaurant.business.site

THE DISH

MURTABAK, SINGAPORE

WHAT IS IT Gossamer-thin dough folded over meat, vegetables or egg and fried on a hotplate.

WHY WE LOVE IT At any market or hawker stand across much of Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and even the Indian subcontinent and the Arabian Peninsula you'll usually find someone making murtabak. You'll see them stretching out the dough, laying it on a hotplate, filling it, folding it, frying it and then topping it with sauce. These things are Asian history in a snack – the spice trade, the movement of cultures and people – and they're delicious.

WHERE TO GET IT One of our favourites is served at Singapore's no-frills Zam Zam Restaurant, which has been cooking murtabak for more than 100 years.

THE DETAILS See zamzamsingapore.com.

THE DISH

SCOTCH EGGS, LONDON, ENGLAND

WHAT IS IT Boiled eggs – with the yolk still a little runny – are covered in sausage meat, then crumbed and fried. The result: a beer snack from heaven.

WHY WE LOVE IT There's nothing fancy about a Scotch egg, but that's part of its charm. This is a quintessential British pub snack, along with pork pies and pork scratchings, and you know life is good when you're in a cosy old pub with a pint of ale and a deep-fried egg in front of you.

WHERE TO GET IT Though we did say Scotch eggs aren't fancy, there are upmarket versions out there, and one of the best is the black pudding Scotch egg at London gastro-pub the Harwood Arms.

THE DETAILS See harwoodarms.com

THE DISH

GYOZA, KYOTO, JAPAN

WHAT IS IT This is Japan's version of the Chinese jaiozi dumpling, with a thin, flour-based wrapper that's filled with minced meat and spices, then fried or boiled, and served with a soy-vinegar sauce.

WHY WE LOVE IT These delicate dumplings aren't always just a snack – there are entire restaurants dedicated to their deliciousness. However, you can also grab a box of gyoza from any Japanese convenience store, throw them in the microwave, and you have yourself the snack of champions. Extremely affordable, too.

WHERE TO GET IT One of the best gyoza-focused restaurants is Hohei in Kyoto, which dishes up little else but delicious dumplings.

THE DETAILS Remember in Japan, even if you buy your gyoza at a convenience store, it's bad form to eat on the run. See gyozahohei.com

THE DISH

GILDAS, SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN

WHAT IS IT The original "pintxo", the Basque form of tapas: three spicy, pickled guindilla peppers are spiked onto a long toothpick with a salted anchovy and two olives, and drowned in olive oil.

WHY WE LOVE IT The Gilda is named after Rita Hayworth's character in the eponymous 1940s film, a spicy, exotic figure to match a spicy, exotic snack. Every bar in the Basque Country's culinary hotspot of San Sebastian does a version of the Gilda, and these bites make the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon vermouth.

WHERE TO GET IT You can't go wrong anywhere in San Sebastian, though specialty anchovy bar Txepetxa is a great place to start.

THE DETAILS Don't pay for your Gilda as soon as it's passed over to you – in the Basque Country you pay when you leave. See sansebastianturismoa.eus

THE DISH

EGG ROLLS, COLOMBO, SRI LANKA

WHAT IS IT A savoury pancake filled with fish, spiced potatoes and boiled egg, and then rolled, crumbed and fried. Spectacularly good.

WHY WE LOVE IT The Sri Lankans have their snacking game worked out. Just check out the culture of "short eats", a whole raft of spicy deep-fried goodies that people eat at all hours of the day. Some of the highlights include "cutlets", which are breaded, fried balls of fish and mashed potato, "vadais", which are fried lentil cakes, and egg rolls.

WHERE TO GET IT You'll find egg rolls throughout Sri Lanka, and they're best eaten in no-frills restaurants that have all of their fried snacks displayed in the window.

THE DETAILS Be aware that if a waiter brings over a large plate of short eats to your table, you only pay for what you decide to eat. See srilanka.travel

THE DISH

EMPANADAS, BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA

WHAT IS IT A crumbly pastry pocket filled with minced meat, boiled egg and olives, with a little seasoning.

WHY WE LOVE IT Almost every country has a version of pastry stuffed with meat – hello Aussie pies, Lebanese sfeeha, Chinese baozi – and this is Argentina's. Empanadas are an adaptation of a Spanish snack (which, in turn, are believed to be inspired by Indian samosas), and they're the perfect antidote to the whopping steaks you'll be eating most nights in cities such as Buenos Aires.

WHERE TO GET IT Nestled in BA's trendy Recoleta neighbourhood, Antigua Carpinacci is a local favourite for its high-quality empanadas.

THE DETAILS Get in early for fresh-baked empanadas – Antigua Carpinacci opens at 6am. See argentina.travel

THE DISH

SUPPLI, ROME, ITALY

WHAT IS IT Rome's answer to Sicilian arancini, a breaded, fried ball of risotto that's been mixed with tomato ragu and stuffed with mozzarella cheese. You want this dish.

WHY WE LOVE IT Roman snack food has been enjoying a surge in popularity recently – you only have to view the proliferation of "pizza al taglio", or pizza by the slice joints, as well as the new fad for "trapizzini", a pocket of bread filled with pizza toppings. And then there's suppli, an old treat with a new appreciation, and one you'll quickly grow to love.

WHERE TO GET IT Check out the aptly named Suppli, a takeaway shop in the Trastevere neighbourhood specialising in suppli that oozes rich, salty mozzarella.

THE DETAILS See suppliroma.it

THE DISH

KNAFEH, NABLUS, PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES

WHAT IS IT An odd and yet addictive dish of sweet, noodle-shaped pastry, light semolina flour, stretchy, mozzarella-like cheese, and sugar syrup.

WHY WE LOVE IT Great snacks don't have to be savoury. For proof, check out knafeh, the Middle Eastern street-food treat that's super-sweet and extremely tasty. Forget the unusual combination of ingredients and instead just grab a fork and feast on a snack that's highly addictive, and highly recommended.

WHERE TO GET IT You'll find knafeh served through much of the Middle East, though the Palestinian Territories is the perfect spot to sample it, in particular in Nablus. There, Al-Aqsa Sweets makes one thing only, and they do it extremely well.

THE DETAILS See travelpalestine.ps

THE DISH

BILTONG, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

WHAT IS IT Sticks or chunks of spiced, salted meat – usually beef or various game animals – are left to cure for a few days before being chopped up and devoured by obsessed South Africans.

WHY WE LOVE IT You either love 'tong or you hate it. The process of curing the spiced meat was honed by the Voortrekkers, South Africa's wagon-carting colonists of old, and it has retained its popularity, probably due to biltong's classic, marriage-made-in-heaven partnership with cold beer and rugby.

WHERE TO GET IT Any butcher across the country will have biltong, and it will be good. If you're in Cape Town, call past The Biltong Clan to stock up.

THE DETAILS See thebiltongclan.co.za

THE DISH

ACARAJE, SALVADOR, BRAZIL

WHAT IS IT To make acaraje, black-eyed peas are cooked and mashed and shaped into balls, which are deep-fried in palm oil, then split in half and filled with crispy fried prawns, spicy sauce, and more palm oil.

WHY WE LOVE IT Some snacks are really healthy. Others are like acaraje, a cherished West African-influenced street-food dish from Brazil's Bahia state that's sure to thicken your arteries. Acaraje, of course, speaks of Brazil's history and its current multicultural nature as much as its love for deep-fried goodness. Worth trying for so many reasons; wellness be damned.

WHERE TO GET IT The Bahian capital of Salvador is ground zero for acaraje, and Acaraje da Dinha is the most famous shop in the city.

THE DETAILS See visitbrasil.com

THE DISH

SHAWARMA, DUBAI, UAE

WHAT IS IT Similar to the Turkish doner kebab, meat is sliced from a vertical rotisserie, and then wrapped in flatbread with various vegetables, pickles and sauces.

WHY WE LOVE IT This is history in your hands, the movement of people across Europe and Arabia, the influence of Greece, the dominance of the Ottomans, the modern-day transference of tastes and ideas. Also, shawarma is extremely tasty, especially in the Levantine style, with pickled turnips and tahini.

WHERE TO GET IT The topic of where shawarma comes from and where it's done best is likely to inspire passionate argument. Should you eat it in Egypt or Jordan? Israel or Turkey? The answer is all of them. However, to sample many versions, do a shawarma crawl of multicultural Dubai.

THE DETAILS See visitdubai.com

THE DISH

BANH MI, HOI AN, VIETNAM

WHAT IS IT On the streets of Vietnam, crusty baguettes are filled with pate, pork, pickled vegetables and herbs, topped with sauce and dished out to the masses.

WHY WE LOVE IT The banh mi is a perfect snapshot of local history, a clear mix of French influence – the baguette, the farmhouse pate – with the more familiar sour and spicy flavours of Vietnam. It's also incredibly tasty, and at little more than a dollar per sandwich, eminently affordable.

WHERE TO GET IT In historic Hoi An there are two famous banh mi shops, either of which could lay claim to being the best in the country: Madam Khanh the Banh Mi Queen, and Banh Mi Phuong. Our choice is Madam Khanh, mostly because of the incredible chilli sauce.

THE DETAILS See vietnam.travel

THE DISH

TACOS AL PASTOR, MEXICO CITY, MEXICO

WHAT IS IT Take a shawarma-style vertical rotisserie, add pork that's been marinated in local chillies and pineapple, grill it, slice it, and fold it into a tortilla with onions, coriander, fresh pineapple and salsa.

WHY WE LOVE IT Lebanese migrants brought the shawarma-style grill to Mexico, and their descendants fused it with local culinary traditions. The result: tacos al pastor, a spicy-sweet local snack that's become a Mexican obsession, and one of the tastiest street-food treats you can get in a country that does street-food treats extremely well.

WHERE TO GET IT You'll find this dish being served at hole-in-the-wall taquerias across Mexico City, but one of the best is Taqueria Los Parados, a standing-room-only bar near La Condesa.

THE DETAILS See visitmexico.com

SLOW FOOD: FIVE MEALS YOU'LL HAVE TO WAIT (AND PAY) FOR

 

PAELLA

This classic rice dish from Valencia in Spain should always be cooked fresh – if it's not, you're getting a bad version. Paella takes at least 20 minutes to throw together, which is why you're going to want to order a few starters.

MINIBAR BY JOSE ANDRES

There's nothing fast about a meal at Minibar, chef Jose Andres' fine-dining restaurant in Washington DC. Here, the standard tasting menu takes in more than 25 courses, which are spread over three to four hours. Settle in and enjoy.

PEKING DUCK

Though there are takeaway stores and even street food stands that serve Peking duck pancakes at speed, if you want to dine at some of Beijing's finest poultry establishments you'll need to book ahead, and order your duck when you do. That's 24 hours to get hungry.

DAMON BAEHREL

This legendary New York chef's eponymous restaurant has just 26 seats, it's only open four nights a week, and it closes for long periods when Baehrel goes on holiday. The restaurant is also phenomenally popular, and the waiting list for a reservation is estimated to be between seven and 10 years. Yes, years.

SUPERMEAT

You'll have to wait to sample SuperMeat, mostly because it doesn't exist at the moment. An Israeli start-up of the same name is currently developing the product – artificial, lab-grown chicken meat – and preparing it for market in ... Well, we don't know. Hang tight.

FIVE OF THE BEST (AND WORST) CLASSIC AUSTRALIAN SNACKS

CHIKO ROLL

In 1951, Victorian boilermaker Frank McEnroe hit upon a recipe idea to sell at local footy matches: a deep-fried roll, similar to a Chinese spring roll, though more robust. He called it a "chicken roll", despite its complete lack of chicken. That name was later shortened, and a legend was born, a snack that would be devoured by Australian sports fans and road-tripping travellers until the end of time.

MEAT PIE

This is another Australian icon, one that comes in all shapes, sizes and degrees of quality – though not a snack you'd think lends itself to travel. Many's the distracted driver who has ended up covered in piping hot, meaty gravy. Fortunately, pie-makers have come to the rescue in recent years with the rectangular "traveller" pie, perfect for on-road consumption.

APPLE TURNOVER

Most Australians of a certain age who've travelled our fair land by road will have a soft spot for an apple turnover, that classic snack you can pick up from just about any bakery in a country town. For the uninitiated, turnovers are pockets of short or sometimes filo pastry filled with stewed apples, and fake or real cream, and they're surprisingly delicious.

SAUSAGE ROLL

What's actually in a sausage roll? It's best not to know. Instead, just glory in the deliciousness of mystery-meat wrapped in flaky pastry and dipped in tomato sauce. There's a reason every service station in the country has a selection of these warming in a cabinet for a few days: sausos are the perfect road snack, and a great way to keep rowdy kids quiet in the back seat.

POTATO SCALLOP/CAKE

Note the multiple names, because this can get you in trouble in Australia: in the south of the country, battered, fried slices of potato are known as "cakes", and in the north they're "scallops". Who can say what's correct? (We can: it's scallops.) Regardless, you'll find these in most fish and chip shops on your Australian travels, in the bain-marie near the dim sims.

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