I understand that people have a fear of getting sick from food. Often I meet people with prejudices about street food in Asia. Well, let’s be honest, it has a reputation of making foreigners sick.
But when I hear someone saying, “I am not going to eat the local food in Asia, only in the restaurants, which are definitely safer”, I simply can’t avoid to shake my head and roll my eyes.
The only thing I can say about eating street food anywhere in Asia is, that you impoverish yourself of a delicious food experience, which is not as dangerous as you have might of heard.
I definitely prefer street food more than anything else because of a few reasons. Local food, for me, means interacting with a part of the culture, so why I should try to avoid it? I have met many interesting people while waiting for a food, it is an opportunity to practice language and make new local friends.
As I write this article, it could not have had a better timing – it’s now the second day that I’ve spent in bed with stomach problems. It’s only the second time that I’ve had stomach issues during the past 6 months that I’ve lived in Asia.
Let’s make it clear – what have I observed and learnt about eating street food in Asia?
1. Let the lines lead you
Consider this as a golden rule, the longest line of locals can’t lie. Usually, you can find really delicious food for a good value and if a vendor doesn’t have the local customers, it might be for some reason.
2. Beware of ice and ice cream
In general, we are advised not to drink water from the tap. Here in Indonesia, it’s easy because not even locals drink it unless it’s boiled. For example, in Sri Lanka locals don’t buy bottled water and ice in the supermarket. Then it’s obvious that you could get a drink with ice made of contaminated water.
3. Try to adopt local food times
One of my favorite places is usually empty during the day. It might seem comfortable – go there, pick up the food and leave, but it’s actually tricky. Buffet style dishes don’t shift for hours, they aren’t stored in proper conditions what might support the contamination. When it comes to lunch or dinner, dishes are shifting quickly so there is no need to worry.
4. Wash your fruit in bottled water or peel it
Personally, I prefer fruits that are peelable to avoid this worry. You can still eat an apple or grapes, just wash them in bottled water.
5. Freshly cooked meals
At my favorite spot here in Bali it sometimes takes a lifetime to get food, because they prepare everything fresh. Anyway, it’s always worth to wait even half an hour.
6. Wash your hands before every meal
If it’s not possible, a bottle of disinfection gel or wet tissues don’t need a huge storage space in your backpack.
7. Try local markets or hawker stalls
I consider a busy place where food is rotating really quickly safe and tasty at the same time. I’ve already tried markets close to touristic spots and off the beaten paths and food has never disappointed, neither poisoned me; portions are huge and prices low. In Singapore you find delicious and safe food on budget at hawker stalls (here you find a list of the best hawkers in Singapore), which are also popular in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia (check the top 10 food courts in Kuala Lumpur – the first one is my favourite).
Food is an important part of a culture, so don’t let yourself miss unique chances to get to know a country by a different sense – smell and taste. Enjoy your meals wherever you go!
Have you ever gotten sick from food? How did you deal with this situation?