Street food can be a strangely polarizing issue for travelers. To some people it is a delicious, cheap and easy way to get a taste for local cuisine. To others it is either intimidating, or a sure fire way to end up huddled over a toilet for the rest of your vacation.
Shying away from street food means missing out on some of the tastiest food many countries have to offer. In some places, like Mexico, Taiwan and India, street food is an important, can't miss part of the national cuisine. Here area few more arguments for taking the time to try delicious street snacks.
It's Safer Than You Think. Really.
Despite common fears, street food is not a guarantee of gastrointestinal distress. In fact, street food has some advantages over traditional restaurants when it comes to gauging food safety. At an open air stall you can actually watch your food being prepared and observe the cleanliness and sanitary practices of the chef. At a restaurant you have no idea how your food is being treated in the privacy of a closed kitchen.
There are a few things you can do to minimize risk when eating street food.Always choose popular food stalls with many people: locals don't eat at places that make them sick. A busy stall also means quicker ingredient turnover, which means less chance for nasty stuff to fester. Look for a place where one person is handling themoney and another is cooking the food. Carry hand sanitizer and always make sure your hands are clean before you touch any food yourself.
Street food is often the most budget-friendly way to try local specialties. With little overhead and high competition, street food stalls often charge extremely low prices for their food. For example, in Shanghai you can purchase an entire basket of dumplings for 1/3 of what it would cost you to order them in a restaurant. In many parts of the world you can get a filling meal on the street for just a couple of dollars.
It's a True Local Experience
In many parts of the world locals cannot afford to eat in the same restaurants that tourists do. For a real sample of simple authentic food and culture, it helps to go where the locals eat. When it comes to “getting local” few experiences can match crouching on a plastic stool devouring a bowl of pho or drinking a bia hoi (fresh beer) on the streets of Hanoi while traffic whizzes by.
Across the world many dishes are only served as street food and are difficult to find in sit down restaurants. If you areon the hunt for tacos al pastor with homemade corn tortillas, you have a much better chance of finding them out on the corner in Mexico City than on any formal menu.
It's So Tasty!
The best reason of all to sample street food? Most of it is really, insanely delicious. Whether it is hand pulled noodles in China, street barbeque in Vietnam or carne asada tacos in Mexico, you do not want to miss what's cooking. So follow your nose, trust your instincts and prepare for the kind of unique culinary adventures that make travel so fun. What’s your favorite street food meal?