THE CULINARY WORLD is full of restaurants where reservations can take months to score and where elaborate dishes come adorned in edible gold or delicate shavings of rare white truffles and expensive caviar — which is why it’s so refreshing some of the biggest names in gastronomy have admitted their favorite foods while on the road include “meat on a stick” and street vendor sandwiches.
Chef Gordon Ramsey raved about South Korean street foods on his recent visit to Seoul, where he sampled mayak kimbap. Chef and Chopped judge Scott Conant claimed his favorite meal is chicken and rice with white sauce from a New York City halal street cart. And late chef Anthony Bourdain was famous for his love of Vietnamese street food.
Street food has grown in popularity over the past few years, and street vendors have earned the chance to receive Michelin stars for their creations since 2016. But just like any restaurant or diner, not all street food is created equal, and that’s where street food tours come in. Local experts and even local chefs will guide visitors along the streets of street food hot spots like Singapore and Hong Kong or even Chicago and Portland.
Culinary Backstreets began as a food blog called Istanbul Eats, run by then-İstanbul residents and food and wine enthusiasts Ansel Mullins and Yigal Schleifer. The blog took off, and so did the company as the duo published their first food guide for İstanbul and first culinary walk in İstanbul in the same year. As the company grew, so did the tour offerings. Today the company operates in more than a dozen cities — ranging from Barcelona and Queens to Tokyo and Tbilisi — where their tours are led by passionate locals who range from well-traveled food writers to highly-trained chefs and cookbook authors.
A Chef’s Tour began with the aim to narrow down the many options within a destination and point hungry visitors directly to the best of best. Each tour is led by chefs, cooks and passionate gastronomes who traveled the streets of their destinations many times over to find the best eats as far from the tourist track as possible. A Chef ’s Tour offers 13 different tours, themed for each destination, like the Private Mumbai Secret Street Eats tour, the Old Markets and Beyond: Kuala Lumpur Food Tour, and the Private Bogotá Food Feast and Coffee Tasting Experience.
Other operators, like Urban Adventures by Intrepid and Viator, look to locals for the best recommendations on where to eat on the street, where tours can range from an hour-long journey through Bali’s best street carts or a full day of digging into San Francisco’s lesser-known street vendors.