As I’ve shared in previous posts, I’ve been fortunate to have traveled quite a bit in these last couple of years. I always enjoy traveling with family and friends but occasionally I escape by myself and visit places quite off the beaten track – like Kathmandu and Chitwan in Nepal, Chaiang Rai in Thailand, etc.
A way to experience and enjoy firsthand the country’s culture is to partake of the local cuisine. However, depending on the constitution of one’s digestive system, it might not be wise to just sample every raw, fried, grilled, boiled and steamed dish you see being peddled on the streets.
I think I have a strong gut but still was quite conscious about the street food I saw in Chiang Mai and Bangkok which I visited recently. In fact during the first few days, my tummy wasn’t feeling all that dandy when I was just drinking bottled water and eating in restaurants included in day tours I joined.
I’ve collated some tips about consuming street food and combined with with my personal take on this matter.
Look for vendors with a source of flowing (faucet) water source - this at least gives more assurance that dishes, utensils are washed in running water. Good luck though finding that in the streets of Bangkok or Kathmandu
Go for stalls that serve hot, freshly prepared food - the hotter the better-by hot I don’t mean spicy. Perhaps think twice about buying those yummy looking sushi and sashimi packed in plastic takeout containers. Save that for a trip to Japan…
Popular (long lines) mean lots of satisfied (and/or) repeat customers which is an indication that no one has issues with it
Wash your hands or use a sanitiser before digging in – the diarrhea causing microbes might actually be on your hands and not the food
Beverages – for smoothies and shakes, check what their ice looks like. Tube ice most likely at least comes from a supplier using clean water versus home made ice using water from a questionable source. Then againRead up online if the city you are in has potable tap water and take it from there. Do not scrimp on bottled water. Or at least boil your water in a kettle, cool and then transfer to your container
Dessert? Buy fresh fruit! and wash well in clean water. Avoid creamy, custardy desserts with dairy from street hawkers (in my opinion)
Choose a stall serving just one of a few dishes - most likely ingredients are fresher and not stored for a long time
Apart from following these pointers I recommend following your instinct – you wouldn’t buy from a stall that’s beside a highway or a construction site where the food is exposed to pollution and dust. Neither would you eat viands from a roadside eatery with uncovered food at room temperature for the whole day.
Lastly, if you are a senior citizen, prone to indigestion, food borne illnesses, have health conditions, better stay safe and stay clear of street fare.
And if you are still iffy about following all these tips, you can enjoy street food in the air conditioned comfort of a shopping mall food court or local restaurant – most of which serve their take on street food with all the conveniences of seating, silverware, beverages etc