4 Things to Look for in a Street Food Stall (to Avoid Puking Your Guts out)
Transparency Alert; I am no foodie.
Nor am I a street food stall guy through and through.
Unlike many travelers – most of which are backpackers and other budget conscious folks – I do not live off of street stall food.
Kelli and I may eat street fare in cities like Bangkok regularly but in cities like Yangon, we pull back a bit. Ditto for local towns too.
Although I am not adventurous with my food choices I’ve eaten enough grub from street stalls to understand what to look for and what to avoid when it comes to dining from these establishments.
Pay attention guys; eating street food from the wrong stall is a chief cause of wicked stomach illnesses, including nasty nausea, projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea, and the general Delhi Belly that can lead to hours of abdominal discomfort.
1: High Foot Traffic
High foot traffic means high meal replacement turnover means fresh food means healthy stomach.
Low foot traffic means food is not thrown out overnight because of a high volume of leftovers but food is saved and served the following day after being out in hot, humid conditions which means microbes which means you puke or diarrhea your guts out after eating food sitting out in hot, humid conditions for hours.
I only eat at street stalls that are as busy as hell. Owners gotta replace the food with fresh food, and in most cases, either food is completely consumed by day’s end or the few scraps are tossed out.
Successful street stall vendors make more money, feel less attached to money and know that losing your rep by making tourists sick is a hellish downside to the upside of saving a tiny bit of money on food they should definitely trash.
2: Look for Signs of Good Hygiene
I recall waiting for my food at a stall in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The vendor fastidiously cleaned a wok beside the stall, scrubbing at it vigorously. Thumbs up.
On the flip side I have seen blenders being used repeatedly without even a rinse from fruit shake stall vendors. No good. Microbes grow wicked fast in hot, humid climes, especially in blenders containing juicy fruit flecks, said blenders not being washed.
Look for signs of hygiene like:
- regular cleaning of stall cooking ware and utensils
- drinking water regularly being replenished
- clean tables
- food stored well above ground level
If you see even one hygiene red flag walk immediately to the next vendor.
3: Accept this Truth and Pay Up
In developing nations like India and Nepal you need to be incredibly picky with street stall food. Hygiene situations may be….quite unhygienic. May be time to pass on the 10 cent dinner for peace of mind, and so your dinner does not come out in pieces, either front end or back end, very swiftly after you enjoy the meal.
Kelli and I ate a tasty pizza at an Italian restaurant in Pondicherry, India. All looked OK from the first scan. 13 minutes after eating the pizza I puked my guts out, violent-style, projectile vomiting everything.
This puking went on, on and off, for about 12 hours.
Lesson learned; you need to be incredibly picky about places where you eat in India. Even if a place passes the look test on first scan you need to dig deeper and be clear on what you accept in a restaurant.
We found a Belgian women in Pondy who owned a delightful little haunt and ate there daily, knowing her European standards and impeccable cleanliness inside of the eatery would all but guarantee we had no stomach issues.
Sure we paid a premium for her food but there is no price tag on peace of mind.
4: Speak to Travel Bloggers and Expats for References
Even though globetrotting bloggers my house iron stomachs, most know the clean, hygienic spots for feasting when it comes to street stalls.
Or talk to expats, to find the good eats.
Whenever we stay at the Chiang Mai Riverside Condominium I connect with a few expat buddies who retired to this Thailand gem. Said buddies directed me to a place called Muslim Gardens not 1 minute from the condo. Good eats, clean setting, thumbs up, they assured me.
I have eaten there many times, and zero stomach issues.
If a street stall comes highly recommended from travel bloggers and expats alike, you can eat there with confidence.
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