5 Steps To Eat Safely From Street Vendors

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).

Collage Food
Having a salmon baguette in Bali while Cez is enjoying samosas in Sri Lanka and Thai spring rolls in Bangkok

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.

Food vendors fotki
This is how street food is prepared in (from the left) Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand

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 buy bottled water, or even better – bring a bottle with a filter, 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, traveling 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.

Have you ever suffered from a food poisoning after eating from a street vendor? If so, in what country did that happen?


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Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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100 thoughts on “5 Steps To Eat Safely From Street Vendors”

  1. Paulo Tan@Travel Bugs

    Thanks for sharing. Before trying any street food, know the tolerance of your stomach. I love street food but the hygiene matter a lot to me.

  2. “If the place you are just about to dine out at is busy and people are still alive, that means it’s safe.” love this one :D I don’t have much experience with street food but I love collecting good pieces of advice hoping one day I will realise my dream and travel to farther places :)

  3. Stefania @The Italian Backpacker

    I’m off to Morocco in a few days, and I hope to try some street food. I hope to not get any bug, and I’ll sure use your tips. The food there is so good that it would be a crime not to try some of the delicious street food…

  4. Casey @ A Cruising Couple

    Great list! We follow most of these, though admittedly we always end up eating fruits. I have to agree that the best thing to do is make sure you are eating at the busy stalls where all the locals are. If they know it’s good, chances are you have nothing to worry about :)

  5. Thankfully, I never suffered from food poisoning, but I understand street food can have an adverse affect on health. Thus, it is better to be safe than sorry! Your tips really make sense.

  6. Jess @UsedYorkCity

    I love your tips of 1. not getting ice and 2. lining up where the locals eat, so true!! Haha, crazy enough the only country I’ve ever gotten food poisoning from was my own, the good ol’ USA;-) It wasn’t from a street vendor, rather a very popular fast food chain called Chik-fil-a. I was out for a week!!!

  7. Dariece @GoatsOnTheRoad

    Nice one Agness!
    Nick and I both always, always eat streetfood. We love it, plus it’s cheap and authentic! We do follow all of the tips you’ve listed though. Especially making sure that the place is busy and the food is hot. We both had food poisoning numerous times in SE Asia and again in the Stans, but we still enjoy street food! haha.

    Cheers :)

  8. Michele {Malaysian Meanders}

    I think Choose Busy Street Vendors is an excellent tip. In all the times that I’ve been in Asia eating street food, I’ve never once gotten food poisoning. (I hope I didn’t jinx myself just now.) Hence, my standards seem to be going way down. Mice are no longer a turn off for me if the food is tasty. Roaches are a deal breaker, though. I eat raw fruits and veggies. I get ice even if I don’t know the source. Unrefrigerated eggs don’t worry me at all. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my luck will hold.

    1. Agness Walewinder

      You are so lucky you’ve never experience food poisoning, but be careful with the food when travelling around! :)

  9. I agree with this line: “The truth is that the best and most authentic food is served from street vendors, not some 5 star restaurants!” – very true, I’d say I’ve been sick from more restaurants than street vendors. Another thing I’ve learned – stay away from salads in the developing world, just too many things can go wrong in the preparation. Lost 5 lbs in 2 days after eating a salad in Mexico. Stick to fried, boiled, or grilled – maybe not too healthy long term but short term kills the germs.
    Frank (bbqboy)

  10. Great tips! I went to Vietnam back in 2010 and was always too scared to try the street foods but I also regretted not getting fully stuck into the culture! Better to be safe than sorry though, but next time I travel I’ll use your tips :)


  11. This are rad tips Agness! I especially believe in the “choose busy vendors” especially ones that all of the locals eat at. If you see a stand empty next to one packed, that is saying something. Plus, vegetables that are unwashed or have pesticides or dirty water have always crippled my stomach so I’m very careful about that.

  12. Chris and Angela

    It seems that everyone has said everything I was going to write! My #1 rule is to go to the busy vendors, although maybe I should be a bit more cautious about things like drinking the free water and eating the raw fruits and veggies because my tummy gives me a little trouble about once a month (only once really bad) – Chris practically has none! Stay strong to your boiled meats and veggies diet. Have you gone out of your way to eat things like fermented foods or yogurts? (I haven’t, but I feel like those would help.) Feel better soon :)

    1. Agness Walewinder

      I have tried some fermented foods in China, never had a stomach problem afterwards, but I should be a bit more cautious about that!

  13. Eileen黃愛玲

    Great post! :)

    I look at many factors but number one I look for is how they wash their dishes (they don’t always use plastic bowls). If they use the same water all day – I stay away. It’s a great way to get hepatitis. Another tip is to bring your own chopsticks just in-case they don’t have those exposable ones. (Although, one can’t be too careful, I saw in the news where people would pick up used toothpicks and put it back as if they’re new). :O!

  14. Katie Featherstone

    I love street food! I guess I am quite lucky to have a strong stomach too. It must be a pain in the arse (literally? eww… sorry) to have to be careful, but your tips are very helpful. I think the point about salad is a good one. You always expect meat to be the culprit, but anything uncooked can be worse.

    1. Agness Walewinder

      Katie, you are a lucky girl! I always struggle with my stomach and it’s been never strong :(!

  15. Yes, I am agree with your say on food safety. Totally in favor with #3. By doing so we can avoid stomach problems during travel.

  16. Rashad Pharaon

    I ate each one of these insects at the Chatuchak market in Bangkok, including a scorpion. I’m surprised I didn’t keel over and die on the spot. I definitely agree with your points, especially #5… checking the detail (of picking their noses while they prepare your food). Oh, yes, happened so many times. What surprises me more is I have so many friends heading over to SE Asia, eating all that street food, and yet have never had vaccines for water and food-borne illness such as Hep A and Typhoid. I would think it’s rather important…

    1. Agness Walewinder

      I never gad vaccines either, but I will think of it next time. I struggled with my stomach way too many times :-(!!! GGGGrrrrrrrrrrr!

  17. Sometimes I prefer not to watch how the seller prepares the dish because if I were to see it, I will probably have half the mind not to eat it. Ok, maybe I have a stronger stomach but I believe that one should always try to build up the immune system. As long as there are people queuing, I am always assuming that it is good and safe! :)

  18. Andrea MacEachern

    As someone who has suffered from food poisoning more than once, I know it is a reality of traveling if you are not careful! These are great tips and hopefully more people will take this advice and take the warnings seriously because spending an entire vacation with a sick stomach is not fun!

  19. Marie @ Budgeting for Travel

    Not all street foods here in Philippines are bad. In my place, a lot of delicious street foods here, delicious and very cheap. No bad comments so far. I so love street foods!

  20. Only one rule is there: eat safe, live safe. So it is good habit to check what you are going to eat. Stay healthy everyone.

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