Living in New York gave me the eye to decipher between the best and the bullshit in terms of street food. In a city where you can probably find some of the most expensive meals on earth, you can also find some that are surprisingly reasonable. Good food hunting among the hoards of bodegas was more of a search for survival. What's the cheapest thing I can get that will hold me over until tomorrow?
Hunting for cheap food in Asia was an entirely different ballgame. Even the fanciest of restaurants were cheap, and the cheapest street food tasted expensive as hell. It was basically a mecca for a broke twenty-two year old. When I started my travels, this fact was a little overwhelming. I was coming from a place where getting an ice coffee for 3.50$ was border-lining on a steal. Now I had a world of food at my fingertips (literally), for as low as a dollar in some places.
The first day I arrived in Bangkok, I discovered the first few rules on my list to finding authentic cheap food. I was a little outside the main touristy spot of Khao San Road, but there was still a Hooters a block from my hostel, so I would've say I was in "authentic" food central. I did what became a large part of traveling for me, aimlessly wandered around until I came across something worth stopping for. I had made my way down a few cluttered alleyways, when I saw the tiniest little restaurant hidden in the corner. Only locals were eating inside, of varying ages, and nothing on the menu was in English. Perfect. This would become the first of many gems I'd stumbled upon, and the truth was, they were abundant.
As time went on, I came to prefer places with no indoor seating. A rule I've dubbed 'The Tiny Chair Theory'. There was a running joke among travelers I met that the smaller and more difficult to eat at the seating was, the more delicious the food would be. Chiang Mai taught me that to be true. Chiang Mai is a special (putting it mildly) city North of Bangkok. One of the most inviting parts of the city was their street food scene. Every night of the week, vendors would come out in droves to set up makeshift markets. In one block, I'd come across a hundred foods known existed. The more that I explored the rich network of street food Chiang Mai had to offer, the more the tiny chair theory rang true.
Halfway through my travels, I'd accumulated three very important rules to usually finding the best foods Asia had to offer. I felt pretty confident in them, because they were simple. But, it wasn't until I got to Vietnam that I added a new rule to the repertoire. People go traveling for lots of reasons, but I didn't expect to find so many people who embarked as what could be called 'food tourism'.
While I was in Hoi An (another quite special and colorful city), I met a guy named Kauri. He was an Australian chef, and along with the adventure of exploring a new country, he took exploring the food just as seriously. We ended up traveling South to a few cities together. He knew the ins and outs of what we were looking for before we even got there. From spending, literally, two hours in search of a 'noodle soup lady' in Mui Ne, only to finally settle for a random street food cart,and having it be the noodle lady we were searching for! To going on a full day of food exploration in Ho Chi Minh City, featuring both specific restaurants, street-carts and specialities. Traveling with Kauri made me wish I had a pocket-Kauri to carry around for all my adventures, because in a week he packed in the best food that I found in four months of traveling.
When you're trying to figure out the art of finding the best street food in Asia the trick is, you really can't go wrong. Anything you find is almost definitely going to be amazing. For the most authentic experience, search for places with the least amount of tourists possible. If you're pointing to something because you don't know what it is, you're probably in the right place. Lastly, if you're really serious about finding the best of the best in terms of food, find yourself someone whose already made a list of all those places and tag along. Any way you choose to experience it, is going to be the right way.