An illustrated tour of Asia's tastiest cities, brought to you one bottle at a time...
What if you could capture the feeling and flavour of a city in a single bottle? Welcome to my latest project, Street Food Saucery, a mouth-watering journey through some of Asia’s tastiest cities. Each week I’ll be illustrating a different city famed for its street food, whilst also designing a bespoke bottle of hot sauce to complement each one...
I’ll be eating, drawing, and sharing everything here (and on my Instagram @molly.creative #streetfoodsaucery), including my top tips on the best Asian street food. Each week I'll be adding one new illustrated bottle of sauce to this blog post, each inspired by a different city.
Why am I doing this project?
Creating and posting a new illustration each week is a fun way for me to keep myself accountable to my creative practice.
Like most artists and designers, I am continuously learning and developing, so this is a great way for me to try out new techniques and experiment, whilst having fun creating!
I absolutely love travelling around Asia eating street food, so I thought, why not share my journey as I go?
Simply scroll down to begin your visual journey through Asia's street food cities...
WEEK 1: The Bangkok Banger
Thai street food is ranked amongst the best in the world, so I’m kicking things off this week with the Bangkok Banger!
My illustration is inspired by that magical moment just before sunset, when Bangkok's street vendors start setting up for the evening. Lightbulbs flicker to life and the smell of Pad Thai, crispy fried chicken, and spicy Tom Yum waft through the air. I imagine that this sauce would be infused with zesty lime, garlic, tamarind, sweet palm sugar, a hint of peanut, and of course a fiery kick of chilli!
Take a peek behind the scenes and see how I made this illustration:
But of course my real inspiration came from the food itself! So below I've share five of my favourite places to eat street food in Bangkok, including some of the delicious dishes you can eat there...
1. Chatuchak Weekend Market:
This market is one of the biggest and most popular in Bangkok, with thousands of stalls selling everything from clothes and accessories to souvenirs and, of course, street food. You can find all kinds of Thai dishes here, including spicy papaya salad, crispy pork belly, Jok (Thai rice porridge) and Pa Tongko - deep-fried dough sticks that are deliciously crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, eaten with sweetened condensed milk or Thai-style iced coffee! Chatuchak Weekend Market can get pretty crowded, especially on weekends, so try to arrive early or be prepared to wait in line and find a place to sit!
2. Talat Rot Fai (Train Night Market):
This night market built around old train tracks, giving it a unique and quirky atmosphere, and the old trains parked nearby also add to the charm. It's known for its vintage vibe and wide selection of street food (there are over 1,500 vendors selling everything from antiques to clothing, accessories, and of course, food). Some of the best things to try here are the grilled seafood, savoury crepes, grilled pork skewers with sweet and spicy sauce, Boat Noodles (small bowls of noodle soup), and fried chicken with sweet chilli sauce.
3. Or Tor Kor Market: This market is known for its fresh produce and high-quality ingredients. The market's vendors are carefully selected, so typically only the best products are sold here. You can find a wide variety of food products here, including meats, seafood, spices, and snacks. Unlike some of Bangkok's other markets, Or Tor Kor Market is pretty clean, well-organised, and easy to navigate. A few of the must-trys here include Coconut Ice Cream (served in a coconut shell, often topped with peanuts), Kanom Krok (small coconut milk pancakes), Khao Soi (a popular northern Thai noodle soup made with coconut milk and a variety of spices), and lots of fresh fruit (in particular, mangoes, papayas, and - if you can handle the smell - durian!)
4. Khao San Road:
Khao San Road is a famous backpacker district in Bangkok that is known for its street food stalls. Here you can try all the classic Thai dishes like Pad Thai, mango sticky rice, Satay, Roti, and Tom Yum Goong. The best thing to do is just walk around sampling whatever you think looks good from the stalls, eating as you go!
5. Chinatown (Yaowarat):
As someone who is quarter Chinese (my mother was born in Hong Kong), I have a big appreciation for Chinese food (especially dim-sum and Cantonese cuisine). So a visit to Chinatown is always a must for me! In the heart of Bangkok, Chinatown is a vibrant, bustling neighbourhood that is home to some of the Bangkok's best Chinese street food. Here you can find all my favourite dishes, such as dim sum, roasted duck, noodle soups, Cantonese-style shrimp dumplings, pork buns, oyster omlettes, and egg tarts. I know this isn't strictly Thai food, but I couldn't leave it off the Bangkok list, as it's far too delicious to miss :)
And if you love Thai food as much as I do, you can now buy my Bangkok art print on Etsy in four different sizes:
WEEK 2: The Hanoi Hangover
It's probably no surprise that number two in my Street Food Saucery series is a city in Vietnam! Out of all the places I've travelled to, Vietnam is the country that I've returned more times than any other (I've honestly lost count of how many times I've been there). One of the reasons I can't keep away from Vietnam is undeniably the food, and there's no better place to eat your heart out than on the streets of Hanoi...
My illustration this week is inspired by the famous 'Train Street', located in the charming Old Quarter of Hanoi. This narrow backstreet boasts an array of street food stalls and quaint cafes, all neatly squeezed in on either sides of the tracks. The train that snakes its way through the alley belongs to the historical Hanoi-Hai Phong railway line, which harks back to the French colonial era. If you visit today, you'll find this stretch bustling hub with foodies and train enthusiasts alike, who flock to catch glimpses of the train, whilst trying out the local street food at the same time.
The Vietnamese are known for being early risers, so to discover Hanoi's best street food I recommend setting your alarm for as early as you can manage, and start exploring the city in the early hours. From 6am you can tuck into a typical breakfast dish such as Bánh Cuon, Banh Mi, or a bowl of Pho on the side of the street with the locals, often for less that $1.
If Hanoi could be bottled into a sauce, I imagine it would have a mouth-watering blend of spicy chillies, strong garlic, and zesty lemongrass, perfectly complemented by soy sauce, a sprinkle of crushed peanuts, and a generous handful of fresh herbs...
Take a peek behind the scenes and see how I made this illustration:
It's very difficult to narrow down the best places to eat street food in Hanoi as there really are so many, so instead I've listed my top five 'must-try' dishes, as well as a suggestion of where you can try a good, authentic version. However, my real recommendation would be to just walk around, follow your nose, and go where the locals go. If you see a stall that's popular with Vietnamese people, pull up a stool and give it a try!
1. Pho: Pho is a famous Vietnamese noodle soup that is a staple in Hanoi's street food scene. It usually consists of a clear broth, rice noodles, beef or chicken, and an assortment of herbs and spices (you can find vegetarian versions too, just ask for 'chay'). There are many places to get pho in Hanoi, but one of the most famous and highly regarded is Pho Gia Truyen. Located in the Old Quarter, this humble restaurant has been serving up delicious pho for over 70 years, and has gained a reputation as one of the best places to try this iconic dish. Be prepared to wait in line!
2. Bun cha: Bun cha is probably my favourite Vietnamese street food dish that originated in Hanoi. It is made up of marinated pork (grilled over an open flame to give it a smoky flavour), served in a bowl of noodles with a medley of fresh herbs, (including lettuce leaves, fragrant basil, tangy lime wedges, and fiery chilli peppers). It comes with a dipping sauce made with fish sauce, vinegar, sugar, and other secret spices that gives it a unique and delicious flavour. There are LOADS of great places to try Bun Cha in Hanoi, but one of the most famous is Bun Cha Huong Lien, also known as "Obama Bun Cha" after former US President Barack Obama visited the restaurant during his trip to Vietnam in 2016. Located in the Dong Da district of Hanoi, Bun Cha Huong Lien has been serving up their signature dish for over 20 years, and it lives up to the hype!
3. Banh mi: Banh mi is a Vietnamese baguette that is typically toasted until golden brown and crispy on the outside, yet still soft and fluffy on the inside. It is then filled with a variety of ingredients, which may include slices of savoury grilled pork, chicken or beef, pate, pickled carrots and daikon radish, sliced cucumber, fresh corriander, and chilli peppers. You can find Banh Mi throughout Hanoi, but a few good places to try are Banh Mi 25 (located at 25 Hang Ca street), Banh Mi Pho Co (located at 38 Dinh Liet street), and Banh Mi Ngon (Located at 49 Lan Ong street - this one also has vegetarian and seafood options).
4. Banh cuon: Banh cuon is a popular Vietnamese dish from Hanoi that consists of steamed rice flour rolls filled with ground pork, minced wood ear mushrooms, and sometimes other ingredients such as minced shrimp or onions. It's is a delicious and healthy option, as the rolls are low in fat and calories and are often served with fresh herbs such as coriander and mint. It is a popular breakfast dish in Hanoi, but you can also have it as a light meal or snack throughout the day. A few good places to try Banh cuon in Hanoi are Banh Cuon Gia Truyen (a popular spot in the Old Quarter), Banh Cuon Ba Hanh (located in the West Lake area - this place has been serving banh cuon for over 30 years), and Banh Cuon Thanh Van (in the Ba Dinh district, a favorite among locals).
5. Egg coffee: Ok so I know this one sounds very weird (and pretty disgusting), but you really can't go to Hanoi without trying Egg coffee! Egg coffee is a specialty coffee drink that originated in Hanoi, and it's honestly a lot more tasty than it sounds. It's made by whisking egg yolks with condensed milk and sugar, and then pouring the mixture over a shot of espresso, served in a small cup that sits in a bowl of hot water to keep it warm. The origin of egg coffee is said to date back to the 1940s, when milk was scarce in Vietnam and egg yolks were used as a substitute. Personally I wouldn't substitute my usual flat white for this as it's quite rich, but it's a great to try as a dessert or mid-afternoon treat. Try it at Giang Café, a small café in the Old Quarter that is said to be the birthplace of egg coffee.
Love the streets of Hanoi? You can now buy my Hanoi print on Etsy in four different sizes:
Next week I'll be revealing the third city in the Street Food Saucery series, so stay tuned and follow along on Instagram or Facebook for regular updates!
WEEK 3: The Penang Punch
I lived in Penang, Malaysia for around six months, and to be honest, it wasn't love at first sight. At first I found the city overwhelming and chaotic and it took me a while to discover its charm and understand its complicated history. But after lots of exploring, getting lost, and eating my way around, I slowly but inevitably started to fall in love...
Having been established by the British as a trading port in the late 18th century, Penang became a melting pot of cultures and ethnicities, with a significant Chinese and Indian population settling in the area over time. This diverse population has led to a fascinating mix of cultures, cuisines, and traditions, which in turn shaped the vibrant street food scene and resulted in Penang being hailed as the "food capital" of Malaysia.
Wandering around the streets of George Town in Penang is an unparalleled experience for food lovers. In Little India, the aroma of spices fills the air and you'll spot vendors preparing famous Roti Canai on street corners. Walk into the Chinese district and you'll find fried dumplings, buns, and other dim sum favourites at every turn. The sights, sounds, and smells are a feast for the senses, with the sizzling of woks and the enticing smells of grilled meats and fresh seafood filling the air.
The street food in Penang is also relatively cheap compared to restaurants, making it accessible to everyone (and meaning that you can sample a wide variety of dishes without breaking the bank!)
Despite all the different flavours on offer, if Penang could be bottled into a sauce, I think it would have to be represented by a spicy Sambal, popping with lime, garlic, ginger, galangal, tamarind, and lots of crushed red chillis!
Here's a look behind the scenes to see how I made this illustration:
Here are just a few of my favourite 'must-try' dishes when visiting Penang:
Nasi Kandar - Nasi Kandar is the local speciality in Penang, and a must-try when you visit. It's a popular Indian-Muslim dish consisting of steamed rice served with a variety of curries, such as fried chicken, beef, or fish, plus vegetables and pickles. The dish is usually served on a large plate or banana leaf, and is known for its rich and spicy flavours.
Char Kway Teow - This popular Malaysian dish is known for its bold, savoury flavours and is one of my favourites. It's traditionally made with flat rice noodles stir-fried with a variety of ingredients, such as shrimp, cockles, Chinese sausage, egg, and bean sprouts, in a sauce that typically includes soy sauce, chilli paste, and sometimes oyster sauce. The wok-frying process gives it a wonderful smoky and slightly charred taste that adds to the overall depth of flavour. Delicious!
Assam Laksa - This tangy, fish-based, noodle soup is very popular in Penang, Malaysia, often served in small bowls at the side of the street. The base is made from a mixture of tamarind, lemongrass, chilli, and other herbs and spices, which gives it a sour and slightly spicy taste, poured over rice noodles, then topped with shredded fish (typically mackerel or sardines), cucumber, onions, lettuce, and mint leaves. It's a unique and complex dish that balances sour, spicy, and savoury flavours, often served with a side of shrimp paste or fermented fish sauce, which adds an extra layer of umami flavour.
Hokkien Mee - This dish was invented in Penang, and has become a popular street food favourite in George Town. It's made with thick egg noodles stir-fried with prawns, pork, squid, and vegetables in a slightly spicy broth. It's often garnished with crispy fried shallots and served with a side of sambal chilli sauce for extra heat!
Nasi Lemak - Nasi Lemak is often considered the national dish of Malaysia, so you can't visit without trying it! It consists of fragrant coconut rice that is cooked with pandan leaves and served with a variety of side dishes, including fried anchovies, roasted peanuts, cucumber slices, hard-boiled egg, and most importantly, spicy sambal sauce. In Penang, the dish often comes with additional side dishes, such as fried chicken or fish, or curry vegetables. Nasi Lemak is typically served on a banana leaf or in a small packet made from banana leaf, which adds to its unique presentation.
Dim Sum - The Chinese community has played a significant role in shaping Penang's culinary landscape, so it's no surprise that the Dim Sum in Penang is excellent. You'll find all the favouries, including Har Gow (shrimp dumplings), Siu Mai (pork dumplings), Char Siu Bao (barbecue pork buns), Cheong Fun (rice noodle rolls), Lo Bak Go (turnip cake), Haam Sui Gok (deep-fried glutinous rice dumplings), Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), and many more dishes, all served in small bamboo baskets or plates. Penang also has its unique take on Cantonese-style dim sum, known as Hokkien-style dim sum, which features dishes that are flavoured with vinegar, garlic, and chilli, often served with a hot and sour soup. Go around brunch time with a big group of friends or family for the best experience!
You can now buy my Penang print on Etsy in four different sizes:
Next week I'll be revealing the fourth city in the Street Food Saucery series, so stay tuned and follow along on Instagram or Facebook for regular updates!
WEEK 4: The Hong Kong Hottie
Many people don’t know that I am quarter Chinese. My mother was born in Hong Kong and relocated to the UK at the age of 13, which meant that I grew up with a mixture of both British and Chinese customs, traditions, and food! In my parents' kitchen soy sauce was more common than ketchup, and a big drum of never-ending jasmine rice occupied most of our kitchen cupboard. For as long as I can remember, my all-time favourite comfort food has been Chow Fun (Cantonese special fried rice), and my love of dim sum is probably the main reason I have failed so many times to be vegetarian! So to say that Hong Kong takes up a big place in my heart is an understatement…
Anyone who has been to Hong Kong will know that it's a paradise for foodies, and its reputation as a culinary hub has grown steadily over the years. The city's street food scene is as diverse as it is delicious, reflecting its unique blend of Chinese and Western cultures. The history of street food in Hong Kong can be traced back to the 1950s, when vendors would push their carts through the streets selling snacks to hungry residents. Today, the city boasts an incredible array of street food options, from savory noodle soups and crispy roast meats and sweet desserts. One of the most popular types of street food in Hong Kong (and my favourite!) is dim sum, which originated in the southern province of Guangdong and is now a staple of Cantonese cuisine. Dim sum can be found all over Hong Kong, from Michelin-starred restaurants to humble street stalls, and is best enjoyed with a pot of hot jasmine tea :)
Although Hong Kong is one of my favourite cities in the world, the city has undergone significant political changes since I was the last there, and many things have now changed. The city's relationship with mainland China has since become increasingly fraught, and the central government's tightening grip on Hong Kong's autonomy has led to concerns about freedom of speech, assembly, and the press. These political changes have had a profound impact on the city's society and culture, including its food and restaurant scene. Some restaurants have been targeted for their perceived political affiliations, leading to calls for boycotts and protests. Meanwhile, there has been a renewed focus on preserving Hong Kong's culinary heritage and supporting local businesses that embody the city's values and traditions. Overall, the political changes of the past few years have created a challenging and uncertain environment for Hong Kong, but also a renewed sense of resilience and determination among its people.
Here's a look behind the scenes to see how I made this illustration:
What's in the sauce?
There are so many different, interesting flavours in Cantonese cooking, that it's almost impossible to narrow them down. But if the taste of Hong Kong could be bottled into a sauce, I imagine it would probably taste a bit like my Mum's cooking :) - a delicious fusion of soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, ginger, spring onions, chilli and oyster sauce.
Here are my top five favourite Dim Sum dishes:
Har Gow - If I could only order one dim sum dish, it would have to be Har Gow. Har gow are steamed dumplings that are translucent and delicate in appearance, with a thin, chewy wrapper made from a mixture of wheat starch and tapioca starch. The filling is made from fresh shrimp that have been finely chopped and mixed with seasonings such as soy sauce, sesame oil, and ginger. The dumplings are often shaped into small, crescent-shaped parcels and served in bamboo steamers.
Char Siu Bao - Char siu bao, also known as barbecue pork buns, are a classic dim sum dish that I almost always order. These steamed buns are filled with a sweet and savory mixture of char siu (Cantonese-style barbecue pork), and sometimes also include onions, mushrooms, or other ingredients. The bun itself is soft, doughy, and comforting, with a fluffy texture that is achieved through the use of yeast in the dough. Very satisfying!
Wu Gok - Wu Gok is made from mashed taro root and filled with a savory mixture of diced mushrooms, diced shrimp, and often also diced pork. The mixture is formed into a ball or a flat cake and then deep-fried until it's wonderfully crispy on the outside. The name "wu gok" means "yam puff" in Cantonese, but the dish is actually made with taro root, not yam. It's especially popular during the Chinese New Year celebrations as it is believed to bring good luck and prosperity.
Cheong Fun - Cheong Fun consists of thin, delicate rice noodle rolls, made from a mixture of rice flour, water, and a small amount of oil, which is spread onto a flat surface and steamed until cooked. Once cooked, the noodle sheets are filled with ingredients such as shrimp, beef, or vegetables, and then rolled up into a cylinder shape. Cheong Fun is often served with a sweet soy sauce or hoisin sauce drizzled on top and garnished with sesame seeds, spring onions, or corriander. Delicious!
Xiao long bao - Xiao long bao, also known as soup dumplings, is a popular Cantonese dish that has gained worldwide popularity in recent years. These dumplings are made from a delicate wrapper that is filled with a mixture of pork, broth, and seasonings, which creates a juicy filling. The filling is prepared by mixing ground pork with soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, and other ingredients, and a small amount of broth is then added to the filling before the dumplings are wrapped, so that when they are steamed, the broth turns into a soup that surrounds the pork filling.
You can now buy my Hong Kong art print on Etsy in four different sizes:
Next week I'll be revealing the fifth and final city in the Street Food Saucery series, so stay tuned and follow along on Instagram or Facebook for regular updates!
WEEK 4: The Seoul Sizzler
This is the fifth and final week of my Street Food Saucery illustration series! For something a bit different, I thought I’d end this passion project with a burst of neon and celebrate the spectacular city of Seoul, South Korea.
When I travelled to Seoul back in 2019, I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did. But after a few hours of getting lost in winding hanoks, gaming in VR cafes, sipping cocktails in Gangnam, and eating my way round the markets, I was hooked. I quickly discovered the infamous Korean street food, and spent my days feasting on BBQ and bibimbaps.
At night, Seoul truly comes alive and the city transforms into a neon-lit wonderland. Walking through the brightly lit streets is a feast for the eyes as well as the belly; you’ll find street vendors selling everything from traditional Korean snacks to bizarre fashion accessories. But if you really want to get stuck into the street food and try a bit of everything, the best way is to hit the markets. Seoul is full of wonderful street food markets and there are LOTS to try, but here are my top five...
1. Gwangjang Market: Located in the heart of Seoul, Gwangjang Market is one of the city's oldest and largest traditional markets. It is famous for its selection of Korean street food, including bindaetteok (mung bean pancakes), mayak gimbap (small rice rolls), and tteokbokki (spicy rice cakes). The market is bustling with vendors and visitors, and the atmosphere is lively and energetic.
2. Myeong-dong Street Food Market: Myeong-dong is a popular shopping district in Seoul, and its street food market is a must-visit destination for foodies. The market offers a wide range of Korean street food, including hotteok (sweet Korean pancakes), twigim (Korean-style tempura), and odeng (fish cake skewers).
3. Namdaemun Market: Namdaemun Market is one of the oldest and largest markets in Seoul, offering a variety of goods, including food, clothing, and souvenirs. The market is famous for its street food, with vendors selling everything from tteokbokki to grilled squid. The atmosphere at Namdaemun Market is lively and bustling, with vendors calling out to visitors and locals haggling for the best prices.
4. Tongin Market: Tongin Market is a traditional market located in the heart of Seoul, offering a variety of Korean street food and snacks. The market is unique in that visitors can purchase a set of coins to use at different food stalls throughout the market. This allows visitors to sample a wide range of street food offerings and create their own custom meal. Some of the popular dishes at Tongin Market include gireum tteok-bokki (non-spicy stir-fried rice cakes) and sundae (Korean blood sausage).
5. Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market: Seoul Bamdokkaebi Night Market is a seasonal market that takes place in various locations throughout the city. The market offers a variety of street food from different parts of Korea, as well as live music and entertainment. The atmosphere is lively and festive, with vendors and visitors enjoying the warm summer nights. Some popular street food offerings at the market include grilled skewers, bungeoppang (fish-shaped pastries), and churros.
What's in the sauce?
If the flavour of Seoul could be bottled into a sauce, I imagine it would be a fusion of bold spices, gochujang (a spicy fermented chilli paste), and ganjang (soy sauce), garlic, ginger, sesame oil and red pepper flakes...
Thanks to everyone who followed along with this mini series and supported by buying an art print. If you'd like to buy a print of any of the five cities in the series, they are available in five different sizes on my Etsy store.