It looks good, it smells good – and you’re hungry. Do you take a chance or wait it out . . .
Streetfood is a hot topic, and for good reason. It offers an excellent opportunity to be a local, if just for a moment. The colors, textures, and flavors of a community’s food is a key part of what makes it unique. Whether it taste good or bad, streetfood adds value to your wandering. Good streetfood makes a satisfied heart and good memories. But bad streetfood is equally adept at making a memory for you, but not one you’ll appreciate as the years go by. So when the question “is it safe to eat streetfoods” pops up, we follow 3 hardcore rules before making a “GO” decision.
Is streetfood inspected by the government?
Most national and local governments around the world do require inspections of streetfood vendors. But inspections may be few and far between. There are also “illegal” streetfood vendors, popping up in a different location every day and leaving any “issues” behind as they do. Or, when inspected and lacking the proper paperwork, failing the insepction, etc. they’ll just move elsewhere.
But the truth is, we love streetfood! And we consider it very safe to eat. The fact is, we’ve never got sick eating streetfoods. And we’ve enjoy it at every opportunity and at every destination. From Thailand and China, to Rome and Paris . . . and everywhere in between, we buy our ticket and take our chance. We’ve enjoyed it all.
Are we just lucky? Not at all. A key reason is we stick to 3 hardcore rules when eating streetfood. No matter how hungry we are, we put “common sense” first and look for the following.
3 rules for eating streetfood
Any streetfood vendor you eat from must follow all three of these rules. If they do, you can probably classify their menu as “safe to eat streetfoods”. If they don’t, you could be in for a rough night.
- Clean base ingredients. Take a close look at the ingredients being used before ordering and ask yourself:
- Are the vegetables kept seperate from raw meats/seafood?
- Do the vegetables look fresh (stored in bags or in covered containers) and meats/seafood colorful (protected from insects and animals)? We’ve found that even the poorest of streetfood vendors have access to plastic bags.
- RULE: If the vegetables are wilting, or the meat/seafood is offcolor, do not eat it. Chances are it has been sitting streetside long enough to gather bacteria or worse.
- Clean cooking surfaces. Most streetfood is prepared one of two ways: in a hot pot or on a grill. What’s the difference?
- Hot pots require water and lots of it. So they often use it for more than one meal. Believe it or not, there is a streetfood vendor in Bangkok, Thailand that has been using the same water in their massive hot pot for nearly 100 years! They just add a little bit each day. So take a close look for any signs of contamination or odor. Also look for fresh pots nearby. Is there debris in the water? Any oily residue or odors? Is the cook drinking from the water? If so, take a pass.
- Grilled streetfood is my favorite. Open flames quickly kills any germs or bacteria. And as the grill ages, it adds a certain flavor to the food that makes it taste better. Most streetfood vendors use small propane tanks to power their grills. But, if you’re lucky, you’ll stumble upon one using a woodfire made from local trees. I strongly suggest you try that if you can. The wood will add a flavor that you’ll likely never experience elsewhere. But before you do, take a close look at the grill and any other equipment. Does it look in proper working order? Are any materials flaking onto or potentially melting that could contaminate the food? And does it look like it is cleaned on a regular basis?
- RULE: Murky water, rusty grills and pots, and insects lurking in around the cooking surface are a “NO GO” – fill your wanderer’s hunger elsewhere.
- Clean hands/hygeine. Basic hygeine is less common these days, even in the United States (the stink of Axe body spray is everywhere these days). Food prepped by vendors with bad hygeine can really cause issues for you long-term. So keep your eyes open for the following:
- Dirty/sweaty hands and face. Besides being a major turnoff visually for your appetite, it is a sure sign that much more than tasy flavors await if you actually eat their food. Run!
- Animals. We love animals! But they don’t mix well with streetfood. Cats and monkeys are notorious for jumping onto cooking surfaces and food items. Animals that hang around streetfood vendors can easily pickup diseases, fecal matter, and debris from the nearby streets they walk and sleep on. Use common sense on whether you should eat there.
- Dirty stall/cart. You’d be surprise how clean streetfood stalls and carts typically are. In all my travels I’ve only seen a few that were notably unfit. But when they’re dirty, they’re really dirty! Operating a streetfood business is like any other, it requires building up a regular client base. So it is in their best interest to keep it looking clean, especially in tourists areas. As you approach the stall or cart, are things fairly organized? Are condiments centrally located? Have insects, birds, and other problem critters no where to be seen? Are you welcome with signage and a small but clean menu? Is the floor around them clean of dirt and debris? If it’s dirty, that means they really don’t care. And neither should you, so keep on truckin’ down to the next vendor.
- RULE: Monkeys look cute and funny on YouTube, but in real life they’re nasty little poopers (watch our visit to Monkey Mountain in Thailand and you’ll understand). And when they take up residence with the sweaty cook at the nearby food cart, well, fun times ensue! It might be a great setup for a FOX sitcom, but it won’t give you any laughs. Turn the channel.
Streetfood is safe – if you use common sense
I know, these sound like common sense to most people. And they are. But it’s amazing how many “tourists” throw common sense out the window to win a chance at visiting a foreign hospital. This is a key difference between being a wanderer and a tourist. Wanderer’s consider common sense a basic tenent of life, not to be trifled with. It’s a guidepost from God that let’s us enjoy our life. Respect it. This may sound weird, I know. But common sense is an aspect of our existence on this Earth that is increasingly dismissed when it should be honored.
So, is it safe to eat streetfoods? Surprisingly yes it is safe to eat local streetfoods. Just use common sense and follow these 3 rules: Clean ingredients, clean cooking surfaces, and clean hands/hygeine. Doing so let’s you feel confident in sampling the wonderous variety of local foods you’ll find as you wander the streets and sois (alleys) that abound in our beautiful world.