How to eat street food safely without getting sick

Eat all the delicious street food that you can and prevent tummy troubles with a few guiding principles

An assortment of street food on skewers

Eat where the locals eat

Ask a local where his favorite hawker stall is, or you can simply follow the crowd. Natural selection states that food businesses with the most customers usually serve the best eats. This constant turnover of supplies also ensures that the food items on offer are sold long before they get stale. You might have to wait in line, though – this you can easily avoid by arriving an hour before or after the peak times (usually around lunch or dinner time) when the queues are shortest.

Watch them wash

Sometimes the danger of the “traveler’s tummy” comes not from the street food itself, but from the plates and cutlery that the food vendors use. Before ordering that delicious looking treat, take a quick peep at how the sellers wash their utensils to get an idea of their hygiene standards. Some folks simply dunk their glasses in a bucket of murky water (in which case, stay away!). Others use soap on tap (good), or simply go with disposable containers (highly recommended). Whether you’re eating on the street or at a Michelin-starred restaurant, clean plates and utensils are absolute musts.

Handle with care

The best, most professional hawkers prepare their delicacies like any other proper restaurant – by using clean hands or tongs, and lots of TLC. Properly boiled, fried, steamed or grilled food is almost certainly risk-free, but the pre-cooked items need more judicious handling. Does the seller touch his merchandise with the same bare hands he uses to collect money (bad)? Does he keep his food covered (good)? And watch out for flies – if there’s too many of them around, chances are the seller isn’t keeping his place clean.

When in doubt, drink packaged drinks

That glass of water may come free, but don’t drink it unless you’re absolutely sure its contents came from a sealed container. The same goes for the ice that usually accompanies a drink – if you’re not sure of its cleanliness, only consume beverages from a can or a bottle.

Also read: The best places for street food in Ho Chi Minh City

Written and Photographed

Lester Ledesma

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