Delving into local cuisine and sampling new cultural delicacies is a vital part of the travelling experience! Along your travels, all manner of places are available to explore a country’s culinary side. Yet of the many hundreds of options to choose from, which is best, street food or a traditional restaurant?
Some swear by the rule that eating street food or in a basic side street shack always brings the best results, while others refuse to dine with anything less than a well-dressed waiter and a first-rate service. So before you chow down on some local fare, let’s take a look at which kind of place really is the best!
Table of Contents
Cleanliness – Restaurant
First, let’s get one thing straight, street food is nowhere near as unhygienic as people think! For one thing, you can see for yourself how the food is kept and how it’s prepared, a luxury you don’t get in a restaurant. The chef in the back could be scratching his ass or using piss-soaked hands for all you know!
That being said, street food, by definition, is outside and exposed to the elements. With stalls often congregated down dark dingy alleyways, it’s not uncommon for the streets to be somewhat unsanitary with piles of nearby trash and maybe the odd rat or two foraging amongst them. Not to mention a constant stream of people shuffling past the workstation bringing with it plenty of opportunities for contamination.
Though the gap of cleanliness is nowhere near as big as people think, there’s still a gap. Of course, it’s not always the case! Some street carts are pristine and orderly while some restaurants are truly horrific! At least with a street cart, you can see that for yourself.
Price – Street Food
Street food is by far is the cheapest option available, no question about it! These are not elaborate meals, they’re just simple snacks designed for the common people, so they always have and always will be cheap! Sure, some popular night markets or tourist-heavy spots might jump their prices up a little, but it still won’t break the bank! For next to nothing, you’ll get to eat like a local and enjoy some freshly prepared snacks!
Of course, you can still find plenty of basic restaurants that offer some cheap eats, though the price range is far greater! Most restaurants can get very expensive, especially as the quality increases! If budget travel is your aim, stick to the streets!
Variety – Equal
When it comes to the sheer variety of food available, both types of places have endless amounts of options! There are thousands of restaurants that cover the entire spectrum from 5-star gourmet spots to tarpaulin rooves over plastic chairs. Many cities also represent a culinary UN of international cuisine showcasing everything from Korean to Cajun.
On the flip side, night markets also offer an equal amount of snack loving diversity! Whether it’s deep-fried goodies, every kind of meat on a stick, wraps, smoothies, desserts and everything in between, there are plenty of possibilities to tickle your tastebuds! Of course, you’ll see popular items regularly pop up in different night markets, but you’ll always find something new and unexpected each time!
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When it comes to the quality of the food, or more specifically, the ingredients and cooking methods used, then restaurants are a clear winner! That’s not to say that street food is any less delicious, it’s just that restaurants tend to have higher calibre items. For instance, when’s the last time you saw wagyu beef or freshly caught lobster being served from a side-street cart?
Safety – Equal
The reason many people avoid street food is the belief that they’re almost guaranteed to get food poisoning and fear spending their hard-earned vacation shitting themselves out of existence! Clearly, nobody wants that, but is it any more likely than getting food poisoning from a restaurant?
At least with street food, you’re able to see the ingredients and tools used before they prepare your meal! Plus any decent street seller won’t knowingly sell you a dodgy product because they want you, and especially the locals, to come back for more! And lastly, most vendors only buy what they think they’re able to sell to avoid their produce going to waste!
Nonetheless, restaurants still have the benefit of keeping their food stored in chilled fridges and air-tight seals, whereas street food can potentially be sat outside all day in the scorching sun. How long will seafood last in those conditions? Not to mention the added cleanliness of the typical restaurant as mentioned before. Yet, as always, it really depends on the place.
Care – Street Food
Who do you think actually cares more about your meal, the 19-year-old chef in the back trying to earn enough for a night on the town or the man making his living from his cart as he has done for the last 20 years? The money you pay means so much more to the man with the cart, so he has to make sure it’s as good as it can be!
Also, it’s important to remember that the majority of street stall customers aren’t tourists, they’re locals, and news travels fast. Locals know the trusted spots and, more importantly, which to avoid! Their business will ultimately suffer if they show less care towards their customers.
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We live in a modern area of travel and dining, where word gets around pretty quickly about the must-eat places. Hundreds of blog posts and online articles are centred around the best places to eat and the must-try delicacies of a given area! In today’s world, even street stalls have a far-reaching reputation! Taipei for example even has its own Michelin Star guide for street stalls!
Despite that, there is far more information available on restaurants. Whether you want a look at the menu, scope out the décor or just want to find some honest reviews, there’s plenty of info out there on almost every single restaurant! With street food, it’s really more of a try it and find out situation.
Special Requirements – Equal
What if you have an allergy? What if you’re a vegan? Do they have a non-dairy, non-GMO, non-gluten, keto-friendly option for the incredibly annoying amongst you? Well, you can easily find that out in restaurants. The better-prepared establishments usually have detailed information right there on the menu or at least have knowledgeable staff that can help you with any queries!
For street food, you just need to be a little more cautious with what you pick. Sure, some stalls might not cater to your needs, but there are plenty of other stalls to choose from. It also might be a little tricky explaining your dietary requirements to a non-English speaker. However, from a simple eye test, you can find some things that fit your needs. You don’t have to be a qualified dietician to work out meat from veg, do you?
Time – Street Food
If you’re looking for a quick bite to eat, then there’s no better place to pick up a quick snack than from a sidestreet cart! Items don’t need hours of slow cooking or ample time to marinade, everything is prepared to order! The stall owners themselves want to keep the line moving as quickly as possible so they can serve even more customers!
Restaurants typically have much longer waiting times! If your meal comes too fast, you question whether it was prepared properly or just sat around waiting to be served. It’s not really the ideal place to go during that ever-so short lunch hour! If you’re looking for a quick bite, keep it simple and hit the streets!
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A Welsh university drop-out on a mission to travel the world for as little money as possible. My adventures have taken me through over 30 countries across Europe, Asia and Oceania, and the list keeps on growing! From classic backpacking to working and volunteering, I have found all sorts of ways to maintain a life on the road.