Street Food

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2013 • all rights reserved

New cruisers always wonder if it's safe to eat from food carts. We follow a few basic precautions and have had some of the best food --Do you eat street food or not?  In many cruising locations, it’s a big question.  Is the food safe to eat or not?

Well, I can’t tell you what’s right for you.  But Dave and I have eaten street food literally all over the world, including eight countries in Africa and most of South America, plus Turkey, Mexico and most of Central America.  We followed a few basic precautions, had some truly wonderful food and never got sick from it.  Best part — it’s cheap and a great way to get true local culture!

  • For hot food, look for stands where the food is cooked just as people are ordering it.  Avoid places where food sits around for more than 5 minutes or so.
  • Look for a line — the more turnover, the less time that either raw ingredients or cooked food are sitting around.
  • Go where the locals go — they don’t want to be sick, either, and they know the places with the best food.
  • Look in general for safe food handling.  Vendors probably won’t have gloves on, but watch for things like clean hands and separation of raw meats from other foods.

We found drinks were the most likely problem area.  Many times, drinks are ladled out of big bowl.  We always wondered about the water that was used in these.  Other times, cans of soft drinks or beer would be sitting in a tub of water to cool and again we wondered.  We usually opted for the can or bottle instead of the ladled drinks, and wiped the top off well.

Whether it’s a street cart, a stand at a local fair, or even just someone selling snacks at a bus stop, most of the sellers are actually small businesses.  That is, they’re there on a fixed schedule and not just “once in a while.”  In many places, they’re required to have a license.  This is particularly true of street vendors with a large local following.  And just like a local restaurant, they’re not going to stay in business very long if people are getting food poisoning or the food isn’t very good.

In our travels, we found we didn’t just have favorite restaurants but favorite street vendors.  And it wasn’t unusual to hear cruisers making plans to meet up for lunch or dinner at their favorite stands.  We came to consider street food one of the best parts of our travels, wherever we went.

What’s been your experience with street food?  Got any favorite stands?

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Comments

  1. I ate street food all the time in the Phillippines, and the only time I got sick from it was a mango smoothie that I knew they didn’t use purified water for the ice. It was so delicious anyway that as soon as I started to recover I went out and got another! In the Phillippines, in Manila at least, people weren’t offended at all if you asked if the ice is clean. They wouldn’t feed tap water to their own kids, they know it can be bad.

  2. Thanks for this article, Carolyn. I lived in China for four years while I was in my early 20’s and ate LOTS of street food while there (and was never sick). I always felt sorry for people who automatically shunned ALL street food, knowing they were missing out on some pretty good eats. Street food tends to get a pretty bad rap, but diners who use common sense can usually avoid getting sick. Your tips are great!

  3. The wheelbarrow man in Placencia Belize … the sing-song entrepreneur: “Make way, comin’ ‘true’ … creole bread & rolls … anybody can buy”. Still warm cinnamon buns? Needless to say, they didn’t make it back to the boat.

  4. Agree…just make sure it is hot and freshly cooked and it is relatively safe

  5. jim Allen says:

    i spent 2 months in Poland and Russia in 2000. The company provided me a translator and the first thing i told them was NO American food. Had some of the best food. The gypsies would come into Warsaw and sell cheese that was to die for!!! In St. Petersburg Russia the restaurants in the neighborhoods had excellent food AND you can buy Caviar CHEAP!!!!

  6. Good article! Our favorite is the fresh fruit cart just one block off the Malecon downtown in La Paz. The Cart lady introduced me to fresh fruit with salt and chili! Hmmmm miss her. I want to go back!

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