For countries throughout the world, eating street food is one of the best ways to experience local culture and immerse yourself in another country. Many local vendors have done their best to accommodate the influx of tourists and foreign diners by adopting cleaner cooking practices. However, it is dangerous to get too comfortable when eating abroad and you should always proceed with caution to avoid spending a couple days sick and bedridden. Here are some tips for eating street food abroad and avoid getting sick.
Look for Travel Food Warnings
Before embarking and eating at local eateries, it is always good to know what to look out for. Government websites and other travel blogs are good places to start your search. Food review apps, such as Yelp, are also great resources to see what other travelers have experienced. If you encounter reviews such as “Delhi Belly,” “Turkey Trots,” or “Montezuma’s Revenge,” you might want to be extra cautious about what you eat or avoid this restaurant entirely.
Adjust to Local Cuisine
Ease your stomach into local cuisine by eating your first meals from reputable restaurants. This will give your stomach time to adjust to the new types of food so your stomach doesn’t experience as severe a “culture shock”.
Follow the Crowds
Make sure you only eat at stalls where a lot of people are already eating. Locals know which stalls serve good food that doesn’t sacrifice quality and many are willing to travel miles just to eat at a particular stall. If the stall you’re interested in is packed with people, you can normally assume the food is not only delicious, but also safe. If you’re eyeing a stall that’s empty, trust the locals and stay away.
Note Vendor’s Hygiene Practices
Observing your surroundings and being extremely careful about where and what you eat is your best bet at skirting any street food related health illnesses.
Things to consider:
- Does it look fresh?
- Trust your nose. If the food smells bad, it probably is.
- Has it been refrigerated?
- Is it sitting on ice?
- Are different meats being kept apart to avoid contamination?
- Is cold food kept apart from hot food?
- How long do you think it’s been sitting around in the sun?
Note the hygiene standards and habits of the cook, their cooking techniques, and what’s actually being dished onto the plates.
You will also need to wash your hands with a hand sanitizer and follow proper hygienic practices before eating, or you may be making yourself sick!
Watch What You Eat
Avoid stalls with big displays of food that have been sitting out. Ideally you will be able to find a place where the you can easily see how your food is being prepared and watch it being made in front of you.
When buying meat on sticks, such as sausages or squids, choose pieces either still on the grill or ones that have just been taken off. Look closely at what’s on your fork, chopsticks, or skewers. Always double check to make sure the meat you’re about to consumed is fully cooked, especially if you’re going to be eating chicken. Even if your personal preference is to eat beef rarer, it isn’t worth the risk, unless you are confident in the quality of the stand.
You can always play it safe by choosing vegetable dishes over meat dishes. Vegetables are much easier to see if they are fresh based on first sight and they are less likely to spoil. You should also avoid foods made with mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is a food items that spoil quickly. Lastly, if you’re looking for fresh seafood at street stalls, eat at seaside resorts, where you’re guaranteed the fish is freshest.
Water and Ice
Many people are frustrated that food stalls do not carry water or ice without realizing it is for their own safety. Water can carry a high number of possible diseases and viruses and is one of the easiest ways to get sick and ruin your street food experience. Unless you see the water coming from an unopened bottle or see that it is being boiled to make ice, it is better to be safe than sorry and drink without ice.
Bring Your Own Utensils
It is customary practice in most Asian countries for street vendors to reuse eating utensils such as chopsticks. You may run the risk of contracting a food borne disease if these are not properly washed. The best way to eat street food safely is to pack a couple of sets of disposable chopsticks or utensils into your bag, so that you have everything that you need with you.
Prepare for Your Allergies
If you suffer from any food allergies, always travel prepared. Learn how to say, “I am allergic to…” in the local language and write it on a couple notecards so that you can show street vendors if they are unable to understand you. This way you can communicate effectively and be sure that you won’t run into trouble when you are trying to order.
Ask Yourself, What If I Get Sick?
If you do become ill, your #1 priority is staying hydrated. Food borne illnesses are extremely taxing on your body and you need to constantly replenish your water reserves. Add Gatorade powder or rehydration salts to your water for maintenance of sugars and salts.
Seek professional medical advice at a pharmacy or doctor’s office. If you’re unsure where to find a doctor, ask a local where you should go.
If you have a travel partner, ensure you are both washing your hands frequently, in case the ailment is contagious.
These guidelines are the street food rules we feast by. If you have any other tips, share them below!