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?