Ever stood at a busy street stall, listening to the loud haggling of merchants and the incessant chatter of tourists while eating a hot egg roll? You know the feeling then. No Cordon Bleu restaurant can ever give you that experience. It’s something else totally. Still, it’s not good when you wake up the next morning with tummy cramps. Check out our seasoned traveler tips on how to enjoy street food without experiencing the “day after” symptoms.
The following tips will help you enjoy your street food delicacies safely and responsibly.
Tips on Eating Street Food Safely
- Keep Your Vaccinations Up-To-Date – Did you know that you could get Hepatitis A through food and water? Hard to know whether the virus was sitting in that egg roll or the water someone passed you. Take both shots of the Hepatitis A vaccine and stay protected for 10 years.
- Avoid Ice In your Drinks – Some restaurants, especially in developing countries, use tap water, lake water or river water to make ice. That’s not good news and you’ll never know which restaurant, so best to just refuse the ice.
- Avoid Drinking Tap Water – In some countries it might be ok to drink tap water in developed cities, but not in rural areas. If you’re not confident of making that call, just avoid tap water overall. Use sealed bottled water from reputable brands.
- Eat At Established Street Hangouts – Street food vendors are business people and they know they have to maintain a clean act if they are to survive. It’s a safe bet to eat at established venues that people have been visiting for some time.
- Avoid Eating Street Food At Odd Hours – If you’re hungry at odd hours, eat fruit or manage with granola bars. Don’t trust street food, as the vendors will be too happy to sell what’s left over with a no-never-mind for your health.
- Avoid Raw Chopped Veggies And Fruit – If you want to enjoy a fruit bowl, grab a basket at the local farmer’s market or fruit grocer and buy fresh fruit. Chop them up yourself and have a nice meal. Don’t trust peeled veggies and fruit at stalls.
- Sanitize Your Hands Before Eating – If you have access to soap and water on the street, please wash your hands. If not, carry some anti-bacterial gel with you and clean your hands and fingernails with it before eating.
- Look Behind The Stall – Street vendors don’t have access to clean water in many countries. They’ll just dip the plates and dishes they use to serve food in a bucket of water below the stall. Look into the bucket and you’ll never eat there again. Before eating, check that they use clean water to wash the plates and a clean cloth to wipe them.
- Check Out The Food Before Eating – Use your nose to detect smells of rot, check that the food looks fresh, ask if it’s been refrigerated and for how long. Also check if meat or veggies have been sitting on ice, or have been out in the sun for long.
- Don’t Eat If The Food Is Undercooked – Meat needs to be cooked well in order to eliminate bacteria. Some stir fry stalls will just bruise the ingredients, douse everything in dressing and serve you. Eat a tiny bit and drop the food if it’s not cooked through.
- Smell The Raw Seafood – If you’re ordering a sea food fry-up, smell the raw seafood first. If it smells like chemicals, feels like rubber and looks purple, it could be because of formalin. Some Asian countries use formalin (a form of formaldehyde) to preserve frozen squids.
- Look For All-You-Can-Eat Buffets – You’ll find these in local street markets, a spread of delicious food with a few light items and a few filling ones. Eat all you want and you’ll still save. If you’re traveling with a partner, eat from the same plate and you’ll save a lot. (Editors Note: Many buffets are priced per person and do not allow sharing of food. Don’t cheat the restaurant.)
- Look For Filling Options – Spicy salads and fruit bowls won’t keep you full for long. Look for some good carbohydrate options such as filling momos, local breads with curry, rice dishes and similar. You’ll be full for longer and save that much more.
- Start Slow – If you are not accustomed to street food, don’t take this option when you’re very hungry. You’re likely to make the wrong decisions and then suffer. Get introduced to street food when you’re full and experiment with small quantities first.
- Ask Questions – Even if you are unfamiliar with some foods, you must know that a dish that looks very colorful is not natural. Check that your food is cooked in front of you and watch what colors are being added. Ask questions; you may bug the vendor but it’s for your own safety.