One of our favorite parts about traveling to faraway places in the world is eating street food! There is nothing like cruising the roads of Thailand or Vietnam and biting into something tasty you’ve never tried before. Still, eating street food in Asia is not without its dangers! While 99% of the time it’s safe and worth the risk, there are some street food tips you should know. Here are a few things we’ve learned over the years including Asian street food safety, what to avoid, and much more!
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Why Should You Be Careful Eating Street Food in Asia?
Well, this is very simple… You don’t want to get sick! Getting sick abroad is brutal especially in Asia. It will completely ruin your trip and can cost you multiple vacation days, especially if it’s a short one. This is reason enough to be careful while eating street food in Asia.
Also, going to a hospital or medical clinic in any foreign country can be a hassle and downright scary experience. So aside from the fact that being sick itself STINKS, there are more than enough reasons to know what street food to avoid while traveling.
Although this article is about Asia, just know food poisoning can happen anywhere in the world. We’ve unfortunately gotten sick everywhere from Boston to Bangkok! These street food tips can be applied anywhere you’re eating out abroad.
Travel Insurance: Never travel internationally without insurance. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are always there when we need them.
8 Street Food Tips to Avoid Getting Sick in Asia
1. Raw Meat Sitting Out
One thing you should especially look for when eating street food is the dreaded raw meat… Of course sometimes you won’t be able to see the meat before it’s being cooked. Yet, a lot of street food stands are so small that it will be in view.
Do your best to see if the meat is being kept on ice/refrigerated or is just sitting out in the hot sun. This can be a huge warning sign to avoid getting sick in Asia!
2. Eat Vegetarian Dishes
Now this might be one of the more controversial street food tips, and we are far from vegetarians! Still, when eating street food in Asia we tend to lean towards vegetable dishes. Let’s be honest, you’re way less likely to get sick from non-meat meals.
Luckily, it’s easy to order popular dishes like Pad Thai and different curries with vegetables only. This obviously all depends on what country you’re in and where you are.
Sometimes it’s impossible to avoid, especially when you see that good meat spinning over a fire! Just know you’re cutting your odds down majorly by keeping your meat intake at a minumum. Every time we’ve gotten sick abroad it’s been from meat and the majority of the time chicken is the culprit!
3. Watch How They’re Preparing It
Some of the best street food tips involve just using your eyes! It’s simple enough to just go up the Asian street food cart or small hole-in-the-wall restaurant and see how the food is being cooked.
See something that’s not looking too appealing? Head to the next place. Usually, if there is one street food cart, there are more nearby. So you shouldn’t have any problems finding more delicious street food in Asia!
4. Check it Out in Person Before Delivery
Another in-person street food tip is to swing by the spot before you order. When in Asia we often utilize popular apps like Grab Delivery to order food when we don’t feel like good out. While they are awesome and reliable we have had some hits and misses.
There is nothing worse than ordering from somewhere then randomly passing it and thinking… What did I eat last night?! What we’re trying to say is it doesn’t hurt to pop by the place and even eat there beforehand.
→ 11 Useful Tips for Grab Food Delivery & Taxi in Southeast Asia
5. Read Asian Street Food Reviews
Check for reviews just like you would for any restaurant in your own country! We know this isn’t always possible with street food in Asia, but you’d be surprised what’s on Google and Tripadvisor.
If not the specific restaurant, some markets have reviews online where people share their favorite stalls. Read reviews, check the pictures, and whatever else you can find before eating there.
6. Follow the Local Crowds
Weird advice right? I mean in America if we see a line we usually run the other way! However, with eating street food in Asia a line is often a good sign… And we don’t mean one full of tourists!
Honestly, there have been times when we are just driving on our motorbike and immediately pulled over. An Asian street food stand with a line means the food is almost always good.
When a street food stand is busy and popular you are much less likely to get sick from their food as opposed to a place that’s sitting idle. So when you see a crowd it’s a safe bet that you will be good to go!
There is nothing that turns us off faster from eating street food in Asia than bad hygiene! However, this one will be a little harder to decipher than our other street food tips. Wearing gloves is not commonplace and neither are other safety measures you may be used to.
So how do you know what street food to avoid based on hygiene? Do your best to look around and get a sense at the establishment. Are the tables and utensils being regularly cleaned? Do you see any hand-washing stations or sanitizer available?
It will be easier than you think to see if a place looks a little sketchy or like a well-run Asian street food stand or restaurant.
8. Skip the Ice & Free Water
This one may be difficult if you’re used to drinking tap or filtered water wherever you’re from. Nevertheless, you may want to steer clear of ice and water when eating street food in Asia.
As a general rule of thumb, you don’t drink the free water that’s offered at restaurants unless you can see it being poured from a filtered source. The same goes for ice! Many places will order bags of ice from reputable companies, but others make their own.
In Vietnam, we saw them take a block of ice, smash it against the dirty market floor, scoop up the chunks, and make our ice coffee. Needless to say, we didn’t end up drinking that!
Often times pitchers of water will be left out on the table for patrons, too. We know this can be hard to not drink if you’re eating something spicy! Just know water goes hand in hand with what street food to avoid in Asia.
Have any questions on eating Asian street food or want to share your own street food tips? Leave us a comment below!
Brigitte & Jake
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