The phrase “street food” often conjures up images of strange meats and undecipherable signs in faraway lands, but it's also known as being regional, cheap, and easy to eat. Traveling often as a vegetarian isn’t always simple, but sniffing out the best non-meat street foods has been wildly satisfying, especially while traveling with carnivorous companions who seem to stumble upon new culinary adventures around every corner.
Some countries and cities are friendlier to vegetarians than others, with India and Israel coming in at the top of the list, and some have been so difficult that I’ve ended up eating salad and fries for days - not that I’m complaining about that. Overall, these street foods have kept me sane and satisfied across the world, causing me to crave and recreate them the moment I land back home.
1. Sabich, Israel
Israel is one of the most vegetarian-friendly countries I’ve encountered and their phenomenal street foods go well beyond the much lauded hummus and falafel. The ultimate Israeli street food, in my opinion, is the sabich, which is a warm, fluffy pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard-boiled eggs, hummus or yogurt, and Israeli salad (typically diced tomato, cucumber, onion, peppers, and herbs).
2. Aloo Tikki, Pakistan & India
Fried potato patties mixed with onions and spices are widely found throughout the Indian subcontinent, but this version is most commonly found in Pakistan and India and served with a sweet and spicy tamarind sauce.
3. Pelmeni, Russia
Very similar in appearance, but not flavor, to Japanese gyoza or Chinese jiaozi, these little dumplings are both adorable and filling. I found pelmeni filled with mushrooms, onions, and turnips and served with a side of, what else, sour cream.
4. Rustico, Italy
Italy has plenty of vegetarian-friendly street foods, like pizza, arancini, and gelato, but I prefer to seek out dishes that aren’t as easily found back home. Rustico, a traditional snack from Puglia, is a little pastry with a goldmine of béchamel sauce, mozzarella, and tomato hidden inside.
5. Dosa, India
A popular Southern Indian breakfast or snack food, dosa is a sort of crepe made from rice and lentils. There are dozens of versions, but a very common filling is spiced potatoes with a variety of chutneys served on the side.
6. Sarma, Turkey
If you’ve ever had grape leaves stuffed with rice, sometimes referred to as dolma, then you already know about sarma, which is just another way of saying “stuffed leaves”. My favorite variation - squash blossoms stuffed with rice and herbs - were found in Istanbul. Typically served cold, these were an entirely welcomed snack (along with a local Turkish beer, like Efes Pilsen ) on a very hot day.
7. Veg Scotch Egg, United Kingdom
Normally a boiled egg that has been wrapped in some sort of meat or sausage, then breaded and deep-fried, vegetarian versions are widely available if you know where to look. Popular foodie destinations, such as Burough Market or Maltby Street Market, have endless varieties of scotch eggs to choose from, including some made from lentils or chickpeas.
8. Tamagoyaki, Japan
You may recognize tamago (a rolled and grilled omelet made of eggs, rice vinegar, and sometimes sugar, Mirin, or sake) from just about any sushi restaurant’s menu, but the Japanese take this popular street food very seriously and it is well worth seeking out. The Tsukiji Fish Market should most definitely be on your must-see list in Tokyo, even if you don’t eat seafood. You’ll find vendors selling tamagoyaki on sticks, with herbs, with shellfish, with mushrooms, or just plain, which is actually my favorite version.
9. Tacos de Nopales, Mexico City
Finding vegetarian tacos is super easy these days and is certainly not restricted to any one place, but one of my favorite and most common variations is a nopales (aka cactus) taco in Mexico City. Some of my other favorites to look for are chard and cauliflower.
10. Empanada de Arroz, Bolivia
If I had to pick a favorite item from this list, it’d be this one. Made from yucca and rice flour, filled with cheese, wrapped in a banana leaf, and then baked until bubbly, this is the most soul-satisfying, sweet, salty, and savory little snack I could imagine. I’ve tried desperately to replicate these at home, but it’s one of those things that will just never be the same. If I'm being honest here, I'd rather go to Los Andes Restaurant in Providence, Rhode Island to get my fix...they are amazing.