May 1, 2014

how to avoid food poisoning when eating street food

Due to my inner fat kid, one of my favourite things about travel has to be the food! Some of the most delicious things I've ever tried have been from random food carts lining the side streets in Thailand and Vietnam. Southeast Asian flavours are always so rich; you would be hard pressed to find any thing that tastes bland or one-dimensional in this part of the world. Needless to say, I will be stuffing my face with local delicacies from every city I end up in on this trip.

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?

- Min


  1. I also remember the food in Thailand as being some of the best I've had while travelling. But Cape Cod has delicious sea food (fried clams! yum!) which I loooove! I'll call it a tie!

  2. The Khao San Road story is a beaut that you can tell for the rest of your life.

  3. As a lover of seafood I can only imagine! YUM I don't think I've tried fried clams yet but now it's on my list.

  4. Delicious illegal street pad thai!

  5. Mexico, somehow my two year old daughter had no issues eating there but I got sick after eating a torta (sandwich with chicken and veggies) on one of our day trips...of course none of the fellow Mexicans who ate the same thing got sick. We had my daughter's baptism the next day with so much delicious food and tequila but I could not have anything......julia@maybepoquito