Food is the best way to get to know a countries culture rather intimately. It is a way to to start conversations and understand it’s history. It is widely recognized that an inherent part of any travel is the street food experience. It’s fast, fresh (hopefully), and a great way to see how locals eat. But, when it comes to adventurous eating, everyone, even those who don’t travel, need to know how to eat street food safely. There are still some rules to eat street food safely to avoid an upset whether it’s at a dosa stall in Bombay or a dog cart in New York City. There are some tips such as eating at the most popular street vendors with the longest lines, and making sure the food has not been sitting around. Some other ideas are just common sense, like avoiding mayonnaise and eating more vegetable and fewer meat dishes.
By following these unspoken rules and using some common sense, you'll be able to enjoy street food (safely).
1. Follow the local crowds
One of the best ways to eat street food safely is to take note of where the local crowds eat. If a vendor is extremely quiet, or seems to be avoided by the locals, chances are that the food is not overly good, or worst possible case, that the food is unsafe. In short, observing your surroundings and being extremely careful about where and what you eat is your best bet at circumventing any street food related health issues.
2. Ask the locals
Ask the locals such as a taxi or tuk tuk driver for a recommendation if you’re looking for somewhere to buy food. They will most likely recommend places that they frequent.
3. Watch your food being cooked
One of the best tips for eating street food safely is to observe how it’s prepared. If the food is stored out in the blazing sun and washed in tap water before being served raw, then run away. Not literally, but you’ll most likely want to eat elsewhere.
4.Learn to love spice
I have no scientific proof that chili sauce kills bacteria, but I’m inclined to believe that our copious use of hot sauces have served our stomachs well prophylactically.
5. Don’t eat anything that has been washed in tap water
Many seasoned travelers have long since learned how to enjoy street food, and tend not to make rookie mistakes like eating meat or drinking the tap water. Something that the majority of people don’t think about, however, is that a lot of fresh foods such as salads and fruits are often washed in unsafe tap water, making them unsafe to eat. You also need to be careful if you order soft drinks or alcohol from a street vendor, as any ice provided to go with your drink is most likely also made from tap water.
6. Observe your vendor’s hygiene
Observing a vendor’s hygiene practices is one of the most important tips for enjoying street food safely, as one can assume that the food is only as clean as the person cooking it. Making sure that the vendor is handling the food in a hygienic manner and not cross contaminating the vegetables with the raw meats is a great way to ensure that you don’t get sick. Also, make sure that the person handling food, just handles food; and the person handling money, just handles money.
7. Cleanliness counts, always wash your hands
You may also like to make sure that you wash your hands and follow proper hygienic practices before eating, however, or you may be making yourself sick!
8. Beware of tempting fruit shakes and drinks made with unpurified water
Sure, those stands may look so tempting, but don’t risk buying a fruit shake off the street unless you are sure the water (or ice!) has been purified. There’s no need to deny yourself completely this pleasure, but just ask first or order it from a tourist-oriented restaurant that has filtered water clearly marked on the menu.
9. Let your body adjust to local cuisine
Depending on where you’re traveling, it is sometimes important to let your body get used to the cuisine before ordering any outlandish street foods. In Thailand, for example, the locals tend to enjoy their food somewhat spicy, which can be too much for a foreigner’s stomach. One of the most practical tips for enjoying street food is therefore to give your stomach a little time to get with the program before you let the gastro good times roll.
10. Avoid foods made with mayonnaise
Mayonnaise is one of those food items that spoils quickly so, if you’ve never eaten from that street vendor before, avoid it.
Finally, if Anthony Bourdain has been to that city, make sure to look at his thoughts and finds too. Following in his food trail has never let me (or my tummy) down.