Some of the best places to go and discover a country’s culinary heritage are in the street markets, fresh food stalls and small cafes. For me, walking through the streets, looking, smelling and tasting new foods is one of the best ways to experience a place – even it’s just a hot dog cart in NYC, tapas in Benidorm or gelato in Italy!
Reasons to try street food
- Price: Especially for those who have bought package holidays (for example, half board holidays, where only breakfast and dinner are supplied), it really doesn’t get much cheaper and fresher.
- Authenticity: Sometimes it’s a relief to get away from the burgers and spag bols of every-day routine and try something new! In restaurants overseas, the food menus are often dumbed down to suit travellers’ palates, but if you want to try something truly unique, hit the streets.
- Local flavour: The colours and smells are enough to get your stomach rumbling, but there’s usually lots of conversation and laughter in street markets where the locals congregate.
- Local economy: Many street vendors have set up small businesses that are linked to local agriculture and they sell hot food to support their families. Visiting a local food cart business is one way of giving back to the country you visit.
Tips & tricks for eating safely from food carts
But is street food really safe to eat? Many people have different opinions and experiences – especially those who go on holiday and come home with an “I got sick from the food” story! It may not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s also one of the best ways to affordably try local cuisine without venturing in search of expensive restaurants.
Here are some tips and tricks to ensure you only snack in concession trailers safely:
Locals know best
It’s a maxim that applies to more than just food, but when you’re eating in a new city, never try food carts that are totally empty. Check what the other customers are wearing – if everyone ahead of you in line has cameras and backpacks, they may be tourists too. Look for older diners, people in uniform or visit during mealtimes when the stalls are busiest. Remember: the quicker the food is going out the door, the less chance of contamination between ingredients.
Go for grills
If possible, choose a vendor who actually cooks the food in front of you, and try not to choose an item that has already been away from the heat, getting cold. As another safety precaution, opt for fresh vegetarian snacks instead of meat or seafood (unless you’re staying at the seaside!).
Check food safety
It’s easy to take food safety for granted at home, however a general understanding (or lack) of food safety is easy to spot. The use of clean glasses and crockery, tables, condiments and tongs is important and personal grooming (clean hands and hair nets) is essential. Before tucking into your food, check that preparation surfaces are clean, that different ingredients are separated and kept on ice and that the vendors don’t handle food and money interchangeably.
Check your comfort level
We all have unique tastes when it comes to food: some people are adventurous and will try anything while others are much more discerning about what they eat. Others have very well-defined thresholds – too gooey, too fishy, too mushroomy – that will not change no matter where the food comes from! It’s important to know your limits and check that you’re comfortable about trying something new before you take a bite. If you want to get some more health tips about eating street food, this excellent resource on street food safety is well worth the read.
p.s. If you’re a street food fundie, this amazing Flickr called Street Eats has pictures of mouth-watering snacks from around the world!
Image credits: saigonstreeteats.com, mathildescuisine.files.wordpress.com, dailytravelphotos.com
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