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. A much needed post! The most important is water which gives birth to a number of lethal diseases. Apart from this, I have seen them using low grade oil for frying food items..A little care can prevent a lot of pain.

  2. Never had a problem on eating food from street vendors on my travels. I wish it stays that way. I think I can put anything in my stomach except milk based products.

  3. These are great tips! I’ve had a few pretty bad bouts of sickness from street vendors but, luckily, I usually have a stomach of steel and can handle eating just about anything!

    1. Agness Walewinder

      Good for you, Jeremy. If you survived in China, you will survive in any place in the world :D!

  4. I’m quite sure that street food (where the locals eat) is much safer than tourists restaurants.. but that’s what I think.

    Anyway, great post :)

  5. Christine | GRRRLTRAVELER

    Good advice to watch carefully and to visit busy street vendors. Those have been key for me, because it’s hard to tell how long a food has been out. I actually got sick in India and I’m pretty sure the culprit was a samosa that was out for a while. It’s always best to see things being cooked before you and this can help in seeing how well it’s prepared, cutlery used and what the ingredients are!

  6. Mary @ Green Global Travel

    Great tips on safe eating! It really does come down to using your better judgment by observing the surroundings and where most locals are going to eat. Plus they know where the best stuff is!

  7. So, with all the horror stories, why do you travel in Asia on budget? I gotta tell you, nothing they have over there is worth destroying your health. You couldn’t pay me to go there! It’s dirty, hot and smells bad. Ugh

  8. Philippine street vendors sell cheap rice and it made me sick. Also had
    some issues with sunny side up eggs in a restaurant. Roasted chicken is good
    and vegetable lumpia (like egg rolls) is great. Thai street food is great.

  9. Don’t worry to drink tap water in Sri Lanka. It is very clean and always we drink water from the taps. Not like developed countries like Thailand we have a very good water cleansing mechanism and never felt bad of that water. Do not waste your money on water when you are at Sri Lanka.

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