So how do I avoid food poisoning and starring in my own version of a Dukoral commercial while still enjoying the street food?
My 3 main pieces of advice:
1. Do as the sheep do
Follow the herd! If there is a crowd of locals eating, I'm feasting at ease. Not only does it mean that fresh portions are being made frequently to meet the demand, it's a sign that the place has a reputation with the people who live there. Your chances are much better at stall where the cook/chef is feeding their neighbours, friends, and family, than at a place geared towards tourists who they are unlikely to ever see again.
2. Fire is your friend
Stick to foods cooked at a hot temperature. We all know what heat does to bacteria and germs. I look for foods that I can see being cooked in front of me over a direct flame or in a hot pan/wok. Stay away from cold foods or things that are pre-made and sitting out waiting for someone to order. They could be 5-minutes old or have been sitting out in the sun for hours.
3. BYOC: Bring your own chopstick (or fork for the chopstick-challenged)
Often times the food is safe and it's the utensils and serving bowls that are the issue. Obviously at food carts/stalls, running water isn't ready available, everything is "cleaned" via a quick dunk in a large bucket of "clean water".
Ask for takeout and use your own chopstick to prevent getting sick due to a the lower standard of hygiene. Pictured below are a pair of chopsticks I will be carrying with me for the next few months. They even fold down into a small container the height of a passport or ipod.
Be adventures and let your taste buds live a little! Take some basic precautions and just try things. Food is the easiest way to experience a new culture and even if you discover that you don't enjoy the food, most of the time you'll walk away with a story.
My most memorable experience was with a pad thai lady on Khao San Road in Bangkok. Mid-pad-thai-preparation, policemen came walking down the street, and within the blink of an eye the cart was packed up and disappeared into the night. I stood there stunned. Before there was time to process what had just happened, her assistant appeared unassumingly in the crowd and thrusted a container of piping hot pad thai into my hands before vanishing again. I'll always remember that story and the noodles were a tasty bonus.
How do you avoid food poisoning when you travel and what was your most memorable food experience abroad?