One of the best ways to get a feel for a new vacation destination is to taste the local cuisine. It can range from mundane to exotic, and it provides an extra bit of excitement to your trip. For the gastronomically adventurous traveler, the opportunity to taste local street food is among the most exciting aspects of traveling abroad. And if you are looking for authentic experiences, then there is no better way than to try street food.
You agree, but with reservations. You’re somewhat skeptical about trying out street food abroad. Your mind is filled with horror stories about travelers’ experiences like diarrhea or similar ailments after they sampled street food abroad. So, you are not able to muster enough confidence.
Relax! You can enjoy the best of street food wherever you go. All you need to do is exercise some basic caution before you indulge. Keep reading to learn more.
Wash Your Hands Before Eating
Washing and disinfecting your hands properly is essential before eating anything, including street food. If there’s no water or antibacterial soap available, carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer and use it. Keeping your hands clean is one of the very best ways to avoid getting sick.
Check Out the Line
If a street food vendor has little or no customers, it could be a sign that the food isn’t tasty or hygienic; both are good reasons to avoid them. A long line of customers usually indicates that the vendor is well-regarded, and serves food that is safe to consume. If you notice families with children in the line, it could be further evidence that the vendor offers food that’s friendly to all stomach types.
Drink Bottled Water
One of the primary reasons that tourists fall sick abroad is by consuming contaminated water. Water that has not been properly treated can contain pathogens that lead to all sorts of stomach ailments. To avoid this, wash down your roadside snack with bottled mineral water. If bottled water isn’t an option, consider carrying a portable water filtration straw, or chemical tablets to treat water and kill bacteria. Both of these options can easily fit in a backpack.
Do Your Research
Get some information about the “must-eats” of the country/location you plan to visit. Every country or city has its own signature street food; sometimes more than one type. Also, if you are allergic to a specific food type, learn the ingredients of various street food items at the destination. If you are not sure about a particular food’s ingredients, it’s best to avoid it.
Watch the Food Being Cooked
Is the vendor cooking the food in front of you, or are they just heating up a pre-cooked dish and serving you? If it’s pre-cooked food that’s lying uncovered, then you cannot sure when it has been cooked. Flies or other insects might also have sat on the food, making it unsuitable for consumption. So, it’s a safe bet to stick to street foods that are freshly cooked.
Keep an eye on the vendor to see if they are handling both the food and cash without gloves. Are there flies buzzing around? What is the overall condition of the cooking area? Are there open drains around? Is there a lot of dust in the wind? Do you see open garbage vans in the vicinity? If you spot any of these red flags, you should probably move on. There will be many food stalls selling the same stuff. So, don’t rush into choosing a stall.
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Check When the Locals Have Their Food
Timings for lunch, dinner, and between-meal snacks vary from place to place. Eating during peak hours can work to your advantage as the meal will be freshly cooked. So, try to time your meals around when local people have their food. Otherwise, you run the risk of eating food cooked much earlier that can be potentially damaging to your health.
Trust Your Nose and Tastebuds
If something tastes or smells undercooked or rotten, don’t think twice about throwing it away. It’s better to waste a little money than to lose several days of your vacation to illness.
Avoid Pre-Cut Fruits
This is a major source of stomach ailments. Skip consuming fruit salads from roadside stalls if they are using fruits that have been cut earlier. Stick to fruits that you can peel and eat, like bananas, oranges, etc. Or buy fruits like apples that you can wash before eating. You can also buy whole fruits and carry them to wherever you are staying. Wash them properly there, cut them, and consume them immediately.
Sanitize Your Cutlery
It is always advisable to carry your own disposable cutlery and use it if you are planning to eat street food. You can never be sure about the quality of the water that they are using to clean their cutlery, so why take the chance? Of course, the vendor might also be using disposable cutlery. But even then, to be on the safe side, wipe it with a sanitizing wipe.
If You Get Food Poisoning, Do This
Infected or contaminated food can make you sick, and sometimes seriously so. Close to 50 million Americans fall sick due to food poisoning every year. Researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health estimate that the costs incurred by the USA’s Public Health System from a single foodborne ailment can vary between $6,000 and $2 million.
If you fall prey to food poisoning abroad, get ahold of over-the-counter medicines like Imodium or Pepto-Bismol (in case you are not carrying them already). These normally take care of the situation unless it’s something major. You might also consider visiting a local doctor if one is at hand.
However, if none of these options are feasible, then opt for a home remedy. Add some spoonsful of sugar and one teaspoon of salt to a pot of clean, treated water and bring it to boil. Let it cool down and then drink it. This will help to replenish the electrolytes you have lost to the illness. Keep yourself well-hydrated at all times. Avoid oily and greasy foods, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks. Stick to soups, rice, bread, etc. Also, get yourself some rest for at least 24 hours. Normally, this should see you through.
Also, be sure to buy travel medical insurance prior to your trip. If you do contract an illness that cannot be treated with over-the-counter remedies, you may need to receive professional treatment. Travel medical insurance can help protect you from the high cost of medical care in a foreign country. You can visit Insubuy to learn about the various insurance options available, and select a plan online that suits your needs the best.
Before You Go…
A wealth of gastronomic experiences awaits you in your destination country when you sample street food. Jump headlong into it and enjoy the local cuisine – but don’t forget to observe the proper food safety measures. That way, you can have your share of fun without worrying about suffering from digestive ailments.
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