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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! Since graduating college in 2007 she has either been traveling or planning to travel. She's lived on four continents and visited everywhere from the Great Wall of China to the Great Barrier Reef. She now writes and travels full time, blogging about her adventures on Why Wait To See The World? (formerly Twenty-Something Travel). Follow Stephanie on Twitter or visit her on Facebook.
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