Street Food 101: 9 Tips for Eating Street Food Safely (Slideshow)
July 10, 2014
Eating street food when you're traveling doesn't always have to end with an unhappy stomach
Do Your Research
Have an idea of the kind of food you will find in a particular country. Is the culture big on fish, or do the locals love their beef? Will you mostly find noodle dishes or lots of curries? How is it prepared, and what kind of spices or sauces might you come across? It is good to know the culinary lay of the land!
Look Around the Stall
Does the crockery and condiment tray seem clean, or are things peppered with smears and fingerprints? How are the vendors washing the dishes and utensils — are there dirty dishes piling high on the sidewalk right beside where they are cooking? Are there tables and chairs that are wiped down clean — are there napkins out on the table? Check out the vendor’s etiquette. Are the vendors using tongs when they pick up the food and fry it or throwing it on the grill bare-handed? These are little things to take into account when scoping out some stalls.
Follow the Locals
This is Street Food Eating 101. Do as the locals do. Look for the vendors and carts that are bustling and are more crowded with locals. More crowded carts means a faster turnover, which means much fresher food. Look out for families or for local workers, like cops, taxi drivers, and businessmen in suits. Chances are they only go where they know they will get a good meal.
Look for One-Meal Specialty Carts
Someone once told me that if the vendor is concentrating on cooking one dish, then the chances are the food that vendor is using is probably really fresh. Because they use only a few ingredients, they probably buy them each morning or as needed throughout the day.
Pay Attention to the Time
Not because you should be eating in a rush, but ideally because you want to eat during the rush. The busier times of day may mean a possibly longer wait for your meal, but they are also a great sign that the food is being freshly prepared and has not been sitting out under blazing hot sun all day. So if mid-day seems like it is when the locals step out to get a feed, then hop on the bandwagon!
Gestures Can be Your Best Friend
You may feel silly, but there is no better way to check and make sure you are eating beef than to let out your best “moo!” or to check how spicy something is than by pretending to have just eaten the world’s hottest jalapeño. Language barriers can make eating at food stalls tricky and risky, and sometimes we may not always be carrying around our pocket guide with key phrases. Don’t be afraid to channel the animal within!
Sometimes, travelers will carry and use their own utensils, be it chopsticks or some travel knives and forks that they have brought with them. You can also bring sanitizing wipes with you or simply use napkins to make sure things are clean before you start eating.
Go for Bottled Water
A lot of street vendors may offer you tap water or have a communal water jug that people use to fill their cups. Drinking tap water is not safe in most places, so it is best to avoid it and come prepared with or buy a water bottle. If you are ordering a soft drink, drink from a straw or wipe off the mouth of the can.
When in Doubt, Go Without
There are plenty of food stalls to choose from when you are off exploring food markets and winding your way through street food vendors. Go with the one that makes you feel the most comfortable! If something doesn’t seem right, then it is on to the next one!