Image via I Just Want to Eat
The New York City hot dog, best served street side doused in ketchup and mustard, is both gritty and served quickly—indeed an emblem of the city itself. Each urban space and culture around the world develops its own street food, from currywurst in Berlin to porchetta sandwiches in Rome. In many instances street food is one of the most authentic and accessible foods one can eat in a foreign country, presenting culinary traditions adopted to modern urban centers.
Below we have a curated selection of our favorite authentic international street foods in New York City, most which can be found in brick and mortar shops. Only a select number of cities and nations are represented so please do add your favorites in the comments!
Takoyaki at Otafuku in the East Village
Takoyaki–a traditional street food from the Kansai region of Japan (the region home to Kyoto)–are balls of octopus breaded and fried in a special takoyaki pan. The best and most authentic in New York City are sold at Otafuku in the East Village. As you enter this tiny cramped shop, you are greeted by the hurried sounds of chefs preparing the next batch of takoyaki or other traditional Japanese dishes, such as okonomiyaki. When ordered, the takoyaki are covered in such things as kewpie, aonorio, konomi sauce, and bonito. With chopsticks in hand, you then take a seat on the small bench in front—the only seating available in this tiny restaurant.
Currywurst at Wechsler’s Currywurst in the East Village
Throngs of Berliners trek across town for the best currywurst—a sausage steamed and then fried traditionally doused in both ketchup and curry and served with fries. In Berlin, it is bought most often from an outdoor stand. For the authentic German experience take a trip to Wechslers Currywurst in the East Village. Inside this small wood paneled shop founded and manned mostly by Germans, you can get a sausage covered in ketchup and of course served with a side of fries. It indeed matches some of the best we have had in Berlin.
In the past couple years there has been an interest in the steamed pork roll—or Gua Bao—spurred by David Chang of Momofuku’s pork bun. Gua Bao is a traditional street food of Taiwan of pork belly with a mix of mustard greens, crushed peanuts, and cilantro in a steamed bun. Our favorite is at Rai Rai Ken, a fourteen seat ramen spot, in the East Village. [Photo at top of article]
Grilled Corn Mexican Style at Café Habana in Nolita
The grilled corn Mexican style of Café Habana—a restaurant “Inspired by a storied Mexico City lunch joint where legend has it Che and Fidel plotted the Cuban Revolution”—is perhaps our favorite dish on this list. Charred, smothered in cheese, and placed on a stick it has all of the grit necessary of great street food. Served in the cramped storied location, one can either eat it with sit down service or grab the corn to go.
Truffled Hummus Crepe at Bar Suzette. Image via Bar Suzette.
As one walks through the streets of Paris, a crepe store or stand is spotted around every turn. This French classic from Brittany is replicated—though often with a New York twist—on the streets of the city. There are many great crepe shops or stands in the city, but for this list we chose Bar Suzette. Slightly crispy on the edges, thin, and served with classic fillings or unique twists, it never fails to disappoint.
Porchetta in the East Village
The porchetta sandwich is a staple street food of Central italy, specifically Rome. A whole pig is filled with herbs, spices, and its organs before being rolled up and roasted to a crisp. With each order, slices of meat and the crispy skin are cut and placed on a roll. The very best melt in your mouth complementing the crunch of the skin. Sarah Jenkins, viewing a lack of authentic porchetta sandwiches in NYC, set out to right the wrong with Porchetta. Though not strictly following tradition in the cooking method used, she indeed succeeded. Her sandwiches remind us of days spent eating porchetta on the streets of Rome outside the Mercato di Campagna Amica del Circo Massimo, one of city’s best markets.
For an authentic Chinese street food experience take a trip to Tianjin Xianbing in Flushing’s Golden Mall. From the Tianjin pancakes to the selection of dumplings, the offerings are bountiful. Tianjin, sharing a name with a city in northern China, offers a true street food experience: it is simply a stand buried in the basement of the mall. It is an adventure trekking through the stalls of the mall, but the food is surely worth the trip.
Though this option lacks authenticity, we felt a list on international street food in the city would be incomplete without at least a mention of the midnight or quick lunch staple. For our list we chose Sammy’s Halal, winner of the 2006 Vendy Cup. From the original location in Jackson Heights, new locations have been opened in both the East Village and West Village. The sauces used in the food of the carts are particularly standout.