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Chefs + Restaurants

Eight Great Street-Food Vendors in Southeast Asia

luang prabang night market

Luang Prabang Night Market in Laos.

Wander just about any Asian city (or village of notable size) and you’re bound to find a decent meal, sidewalk-style. The trouble often lies in locating great food away from the tourist masses. Here are eight Asian spots the locals love just as much as visitors.


You can smell the aromatic wood every afternoon as vendors begin to fire up their grills. Travel to the base of Suthep Mountain, and you’ll discover an entire street filled with food carts catering to the student crowd, as well as neighborhood moms and dads returning from work. Vendors and selections routinely change, but you’ll never go without grilled fish and meats, spicy green papaya and mango salad, sausages and chile dips, deep-fried and battered herbs, fresh fruit and coconut sweets. Suthep Road outside southern entrance to Chiang Mai University


It’s impossible to avoid the tourist throngs at this weekly event, but the food is well worth the trip (plus, you’ll find yourself elbowing as many Thais as foreigners at the table). Every Sunday evening, stalls in the shady courtyard surrounding the Wat Sampao temple are ready to feed the hungry hordes, everything from sour bamboo curry, fried chicken, grilled pork, sushi, bite-sized betel-leaf snacks (mieng kham) on a stick, herbal juices in clay cups, and more sugary-savory coconut treats than a sweet tooth can handle. Old Town, extending from Ratchadamnoen Road (embracechiangmai.com)


Anybody who visits Luang Prabang knows about this market, one of Asia’s best outlets for Hmong embroideries, silk scarves, and endless knick-knacks. Simultaneously, Lao women are dishing up some of the evening’s best treats in a cramped little alley in the same neighborhood. Head past the museum, until you will see a row of carts with food steaming beneath tiny light bulbs. Vendors near the main road often serve vegetarian dishes with tourists in mind. But follow the alley to its end, toward the river, and sample an array of grilled meats and fish, spicy Lao salads, pickles and chiles, and countless herbal concoctions. You can take your food to go or grab a beer and eat at one of the long communal tables. Small alley between Sisavangvong Road and Mekong River


Grilled, salted river fish stuffed with lemongrass and herbs is a must on any Vientiane trip. You can’t miss the stalls that sell them; they’re the center of action at the market each night along the city’s main feature, the mighty Mekong. Take a table seat (or better yet, lie against a triangular pillow beneath a grass roof) and watch the sun set like a ball of fire over Thailand on the far side of the river. You can’t help but relax. Fa Ngum Road, Mekong riverfront


These steamy little shops (across from the National Museum park) have been in business since long before Phnom Penh landed on the tourist map. Every afternoon, vendors fry little green-onion cakes and thick, round rice noodles. Sit inside, order a freshly pressed sugar cane juice, and drizzle your plate with sweet-tangy sauces. The décor is scruffy but the price is right: under $1. Near corner of Street 178 and Sothearos


The secret is out: There is great seafood to be eaten on the Cambodian coast, and tourists now know it. Restaurants in Kep have come a long way since the Khmer Rouge controlled this area years ago. Many visitors flock to the waterside dining tables with English-language menus, trotting right past the grills up front serving fresh fish at a fraction of the menu cost. Do what the locals do: Try the daily special (if you’re fortunate, you’ll find a great stingray) and ask for a glug of spicy sauce. Sit inside or take it away to the beach. Beachfront road, north of Kep Beach


You’ll find some of the best Khmer fish curry over rice noodles (num banh chok) wandering around the riverfront on an early Phnom Penh morning (6–8 A.M.), or in the afternoon around Independence Monument and the nearby park. As above, look for the women with bamboo poles and baskets, and a supply of bowls so you can eat right there, in the grass. This is a tantalizing curry: fairly salty and slightly sweet; fishy in a good way; fragrant with fresh basil, crisp long beans, lotus, shaved banana flower, and a tart twist of lime. Want it zippy? Lately, you can find it in the afternoon along Kampot’s riverfront, where a woman with a little wooden stand sells one of the country’s spiciest bowls of a num banh chok. Two locations: In Phnom Penh, around the Independence Monument and along the Tonle Sap (Sisowath Quay) in front of the Royal Palace; in Kampot, Riverside Road near the Old Bridge


It’s fall, the air is cool, and every morning at sun-up women stroll the streets of central Hanoi (particularly in the Old Quarter) selling the centuries-old delicacy of green rice, known as com. Watch for the women bobbling beneath bamboo poles and dangling baskets covered in leaves. Listen for the musical call of “Com! Com!” Then buy a little leaf-wrapped packet and eat with your fingers the season’s sweet new rice. (It also makes a delicious cereal with milk and sugar.) Don’t miss green-rice ice cream (kem com), sold at shops such as Kem Trang Tien, a long-standing Hanoi institution. 35 Trang Tien Street