When you travel on a tight budget, you may choose to dine out at local street vendors and restaurants which are not always safe. Although the quality and taste of food might be great, you are still at risk of suffering from food poisoning for the sake of poor food hygiene. Believe me or not, but I know something about it. Me and my stomach are not very good friends. It is extremely sensitive and cases a lot of trouble when I eat the food which is not cooked properly, contain nuts or it is way too oily and stodgy. On the other hand, Cez can eat nearly everything (lucky).
This happened when I traveled in the Philippines for example (my famous “I would rather go hungry that eat Filipino street food again” post).The street food served there made me really sick and I preferred not to eat too much of it than feel really sick. It also happened in China where I suffered from food poisoning few times, mainly after consuming some egg based dishes from street vendors.
Today I would like to share with you a few tips on how to eat cheap food safely from street vendors. You can basically follow these simple steps anywhere around the world, not exclusively in Asia.
#1 Don’t drink the water from unknown source.
In some cheap places your food may be served with a glass of free water. However, in most cases, it’s a tap water. As we know, water may be contaminated by bacteria, parasites, and viruses that cause hepatitis, cholera, and typhoid fever in some countries. Even a small amount of contaminated water can make you ill so always buy bottled water when ordering your food and don’t ask for ice when ordering your drinks.
#2 Avoid raw fruits and vegetables.
When visiting local restaurants you might want to order some fruits and vegetables. Before doing so, make sure they are not raw. Some fruits salads and uncooked vegetables may be contaminated or may have been rinsed with unsafe water. They might be also stored way too long in bad conditions so they might not be fresh. That can cause you stomachache and sickness. The best thing to do is eating only food that has been cooked and is still hot, or fruit that you know has been washed in safe water and you have peeled it yourself.
#3 Watch the food preparation.
When I visit local food vendors, I often watch the way my food is prepared. In this case I know what goes on my plate and how long it takes to cook it. I often monitor the food preparation making sure everything is washed properly and all of the ingredients used for making my meal are fresh. By doing that, you can easily tell whether the meat, poultry, seafood and egg dishes are undercooked or overcooked.
Moreover, you should avoid consuming unpasteurized milk and milk products, especially soft cheeses in you travel in hot countries, mainly South-East Asian countries. You should also avoid eating the food that has been left unrefrigerated for several hours, especially food containing meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products.
#4 Choose busy street vendors.
If the place you are just about to dine out at is busy and people are still alive, that means it’s safe. Busy food stands are a good sign that the food is not going to make you sick. Moreover, that also shows the food served there is delicious and affordable. Nobody is going to line up for bad and expensive food, right? Therefore, make sure to go where the locals go and you are guaranteed to get a good meal.
#5 Pay attention to details.
If you can spot a dirty plate on the side, cook’s hands are not washed properly and there are rats and cockroaches running around, don’t eat there! Cleanliness and tidiness is the key. You should always look around and check the back, see if the food display is clean enough and tables are clean. If the staff do not allow you to do that and everyone around acts strangely, it’s much better to find another place.
Eating local food is one of the best travel experiences. It’s good to be adventurous when trying new dishes. The truth is that the best and most authentic food is served from street vendors, not some 5 star restaurants! Therefore you should not be afraid of stepping outside your comfort zone and eating on a budget at local places. Just be extra careful with your place choice and make sure it’s safe to dine out there. Trust me, travelling is not much fun if you suffer from a food poisoning.
Choosing who and/or where to eat from boils down to just using your better judgement. If you’re looking at a food stall that seems like its main entree has been sitting out all day, again, listen to the warning going off in the back of your head to not eat there.