How to Eat Street Food Without Getting Sick

How to Find Cheap and Delicious Street Food That Won't Make You Ill

Street food on Jalan Alor © Lauren Juliff
© Lauren Juliff

One of the greatest opportunities you’ll have while traveling is the chance to experience unfamiliar foods. The best way of doing so is by visiting street food stalls and sampling the local food options.

Street food can be cheap, delicious and safe -- and often more so than the Western restaurants you’ll find on your travels -- you just need to know what to look for.

Eat as the locals do

If you’re on the hunt for some tasty street eats then first have a look around to see where the locals are eating. If there’s a huge crowd around a particular stall, you’ll know for sure that the food will be great. The locals know which stalls are safe and where you can find the most delicious food.

Always avoid the stalls with no queue and no customers.

Check out the stall

Look at the server preparing the food. Are they wearing gloves and using tongs or are they picking up food with their bare hands? Do the utensils and plates look clean?

Checking for these simple things will help you determine how clean the preparation area is.

Choose somewhere with a quick turnover

Food poisoning is much more likely to occur when food has been left out in the open to cool down as this encourages growth of bacteria and attracts flies. This is one of the reasons why we suggest going to the busy stalls as you’ll be able to witness the food being cooked up quickly, and in front of you.

Refrigeration often doesn't exist with street food stalls so you want to find food that is fresh and piping hot after being cooked.

Avoid the water

If you’re going to be travelling through somewhere like Southeast Asia or Central America, where the tap water is unsafe to drink, you definitely don’t want water contaminating your food.

If you’re handed a glass of free water to drink with your meal then it’s probably safest to avoid it unless you know it has been filtered or purified. If you want to buy fruit juice or a smoothie then opt for the version without ice unless you can see it's clearly filtered water.

The same goes for fruit –- always buy unpeeled fruit that you can peel yourself. The peeled fruit is often cleaned and washed with tap water beforehand and can make you sick.

Bring your own utensils and sanitizer

It’s also a good idea to bring your own set of chopsticks, or a knife and fork, so that you know the utensils have been thoroughly washed and cleaned. If this isn’t possible, then carry some anti bacterial wipes to clean down the stall’s utensils before using them.

Of course, if you’re planning on eating with your hands then make sure you carry hand sanitizer and give them a quick clean before your meal.

Do some research

There’s no reason why you can’t discover the best food options before you even leave your guesthouse. By checking online, or in a guidebook, you’ll be able to find lots of reviews and opinions on where to find the best street food for the city you’re in.

Whether you’ll be searching for pizza in Italy, pho in Vietnam, tagine in Morocco or tacos in Mexico, follow these simple rules and you’ll be guaranteed a fun and safe eating experience.