We’ve all heard horror stories of people spending an evening of evacuating bowels and projectile vomiting at the hands of street food. Though these stories are few in number, they leave a lasting impression, with many thinking of food poisoning as an inevitability.
The good news is that these stories are often blown out of proportion, and better yet, there are plenty of ways to avoid an incident from happening.
So, in that case, let me share some tips on how to eat local street food safely!
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Analyse the Workstation
Though many worry about the unsanitary conditions of selling food from a side-street cart, at least you’re able to check where and how the food is prepared. You can check if the work area is clean or not and whether proper hygiene protocols are being followed. Also, be sure to check if the equipment being used is clean and if the ingredients are stored and separated correctly (more on that later).
Watch It Being Prepared
The main concern for street food cynics is whether or not it’s prepared correctly. Improperly cooked food puts you on the fast track to food poisoning and a long weekend of puking and shitting yourself to death, something most of us would like to avoid.
The solution is to watch it being prepared. You don’t need to be a Michelin star chef to see that something is a little too raw or unsanitary! You can observe every step of the process, from when it’s being prepared until it’s finally handed over to you. Just keep an eye out!
Check What the Locals are Eating
People forget that the majority of street stall customers aren’t tourists, they’re locals, and news travels fast. Years before Facebook reviews and influencer selfies, the word of mouth was all you needed. People in the neighbourhood know the best places to eat, and more importantly, which to avoid!
Long lines of locals are a good sign, and act as a waving flag of a guaranteed quality product! When in Rome, do as the hungry snacking Romans do!
Do Your Research
In today’s modern world, even street food gets a far-reaching reputation! There are hundreds of blog posts and articles online that centre around the best places to eat and the must-try delicacies. You’ve even got an endless stream of photos to browse on Google and Instagram!
Needless to say, you don’t have to arrive at a night market blind and clueless! Everything you need to know is right at your fingertips.
All these tips are all well and good, but is it safe to eat street food or not?
What should you look out for and why is it much safer than you think?
If hours of watching Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares have taught us anything, it’s the importance of storing your produce correctly! Sadly, many food stalls don’t live to such high standards.
While some ingredients are stored in a haphazard manner, others are left out in the open for all passing customers to see (more on that later). Nobody expects street stalls to use full-sized refrigerators, but at least basic safety protocols should be met!
Just a quick survey of the stall and you’ll be able to see how the products are stored.
Check If Food Has Been Standing Out All Day
Many street vendors advertise their wares by leaving their produce out in the open to entice customers. Sadly, tropical sweltering weather in the middle of dark dingy alleyways is not ideal conditions for meats and especially seafood to withstand.
The mild benefit of that is being able to judge the products for yourself, and to at least check if something is wrong. But regardless, you have no idea how long the food would have been standing there and what they’ve come in contact with.
Check If the Food is Pre-prepared
While most foods are cooked fresh, others will have been pre-prepared several hours (maybe even days!) before waiting for an unbeknownst customer to guzzle it down. You have no indication how long it could be sat around for! And the older something is and the longer its stood out, the higher the chance of it making you sick.
The best way to avoid it is to order items that must be freshly prepared before your eyes rather than picking something that’s sat around waiting for you.
Eat When the Locals Do
The best way to ensure that items are freshly prepared is to eat when the locals do! The busier the nightmarkets are, the higher the turnover of products, and thus items must be freshly prepared on demand!
Though you might have to wait for a bit longer, it’s worth seeing the market in full swing and, of course, avoiding an unwanted dose of food poisoning!
Now you’re done with these tips, how about eating street food at Beijing’s iconic Bug Market!
Find out what’s on offer and what critters you can eat!
A pretty well-known rule of thumb by now, you should always try to avoid drinking the local water. The trap many fall into is forgetting about the ice!
As it’s made from the same bacteria-ridden water that you were trying so hard to avoid, it will get you just as sick just as quickly! So whether on the streets or even in a restaurant, don’t add ice!
If You Can’t Drink the Water, You Can’t Eat the Veg!
That same ice making water will also be used to wash certain produce, namely fruits and vegetables! Ironically, despite the locals doing the right thing by washing their items before serving them, it could end up making you just as sick!
The best way of avoiding this issue is by eating fruits and vegetables that need to be peeled, thus, taking away that bacterium ridden outer layer!
Produce isn’t the only thing that’s washed either. Fortunately, by nature, most street food can be eaten by hand. However, if you’re sampling some more intricate food that needs to be eaten with cutlery, then you’ll have to watch out for our old friend, dirty water.
The same filthy aqua used to make ice and wash your strawberries will also be used to clean the cutlery. On top of that, it just adds to the risk of spreading germs if they aren’t cleaned properly after they’re used. Either avoid using them altogether or, if you must, clean them properly yourself!
Prepare Translations for Allergies and Preferences
Sadly for picky eaters or those with a deadly peanut allergy, dietary requirements are slightly harder to navigate amongst street stalls! Ingredients aren’t usually listed out and you’ll typically find very little English.
The best way to avoid any issue is to come prepared. Have exact translations beforehand, even if they’re just written down. It’s much quicker, clearer and easier for both parties!
A guide to the iconic night market in Taiwan notorious for selling snake meat and glassfuls of blood and venom!
What many of these tips boil down to is a pretty simple rule, choose your street food carefully! Don’t just dive in and pick what might look good, there are certain items you should always try to avoid.
A greying piece of meat, nahh. A stagnant bowl of soup, nope! Seafood sat in the boiling sun, negatory! A properly refrigerated piece of beef, ding ding ding! Have a quick look at the workstation and the items before picking the safest option for you.
Don’t Think Restaurants Are Any Safer
Before you think that eating street food is a gastrointestinal minefield, remember that restaurants can be just as risky! Though you might assume restaurants have higher safety standards and run less of a risk when it comes to food poisoning, it simply isn’t the case. In fact, street stalls are often just as safe as restaurants!
Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover
Though snacking in night markets might sound like a diarrheal Russian roulette, it really isn’t that much of a problem. Often the grungiest looking spots have the best food and the biggest lines!
Don’t just assume because food is sold down a dark alleyway out of a side street cart that it’s any less safe than anywhere else. Just take the necessary steps to check that everything is on board, and you should be safe! Happy eating!
Thank You for Reading! Check Out These Other Helpful Links!
Thank you so much for reading 15 Tips for Eating Street Food Safely! Now check out these other helpful articles!
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.