13 Tips For Eating Street Food Without Getting Sick

Can you imagine what a trip to Egypt would be like without eating Koshary, Molokheya, Foul, Ta3meya and Betengan from street vendors? What would it be like to ignore all these pungent blends of flavor, and drool worthy smells? Or the way the food is prepared, served, and how everybody seems to be enjoying every bit of it? (Photo courtesy: Ed Yourdon)


But why street-food? Besides being cheaper, easier to find, and quicker to munch, food is an essential part of any culture around the world, it is the vessel to which one can open -or close- doors to a culture that we are not familiar with, to a country that we know too little about, and the best way to immerse ourselves in the culture by interacting with locals, trying hard to speak their language even if the only way would be hand-signs, taking part of their daily routine, and giving back to their community. Seriously, where else in the world would you ever have such an authentic experience other than its home-birth? (Photo courtesy: TREEAID)

Cooking for a living. The fuelwood burning in the photograph is the equivalent to a small bundle sold for 150CFA.

Growing up in Egypt has thankfully came with its benefits -sigh-, it has exposed our stomachs to the germs and bacteria of eating outdoor street food from a young age, we have all built up a bacterial tolerance and immunity that would allow us to more or less eat anything anywhere with zero fears or concerns, however one should always be cautious –though I am 100% Egyptian, and an adventurous foodie I had my share of upset stomach and cramps. (Photo courtesy: Paul Galow)


Two important tips before getting started on this daring food experience

Please commit yourself to never showing that snobbish disgusted attitude, if you can’t handle the smell, the food, or the idea of street-food, just go away without giving the vendors weird stares, a hard time, and end up hurting their feelings.

Those tips are not intended to get you paranoid, make you feel bad, or over-analyzing everything before eating it, these will help you enjoy street-food, while avoiding getting sick, or food-poisoned (Photo courtesy: Evgeni Zotov)


Pack Your Medications

Do not leave your hometown without packing your medications; pain killers, anti-diarrhea, anti-cramps, and probiotics. (Photo courtesy: Paula Bailey)


Ask The Locals

To start with; asking the locals about anything whether directions, or recommendations is always a great way to start a conversation, make friends, and get to know about the country’s hidden gems. Forget about any guidebook, or recommendations that a friend gave you, the locals are the best trip advisers, so make sure to abide by their suggestions, and to be friends with at least one.(Photo courtesy: Owen Lin)

This dude was ruling the Stick it to Me truck's dessert table offering a gussied up smores. Awesome.

Choose Food Stalls That Are Crowded

You might be tempted by a food stall that has a catchy colorful display, or a chef who’s making a show “a fuss” out of the food he is cooking, unless you see crowds of people -specially locals- who are not just watching, but actually eating, avoid any food stalls that are not crowded, there is definitely something fishy about its emptiness. (Photo courtesy: Rajesh Pamnani)



Water & Ice Cubes

When traveling to a developing country, NEVER drink water served in a jar, always ask for bottled water and make sure that the bottle is sealed, the quickest way to fall sick is through water. If you order a drink ask them to serve it without ice, ice is usually made from tap water, and you never know how the ice was stored or transferred to its final destination. You’d better get yourself a water purifier in case access to clean water is a concern (Photo courtesy: Arthur Quicho)


Raw Vegetables & Skinless Fruits

Another way to avoid infected water is by not eating raw vegetables and fruits that have to be washed before consumption, choose bananas, oranges, and pineapples over apples, strawberries, and grapes, cooked veggies over salads. (Photo courtesy: Bo Nielsen)


Fried Foods

Unless the oil looks fresh, and the frying doesn’t smell funny avoid fried foods at all cost, because you don’t know how many times the oil has been re-used, and the hardest stuff for your intestines to digest are fried foods. (Photo courtesy: Onny Carr)


Food Exposed To The Sun, To Flies Or Not Well Stored

No matter how versatile your stomach is, avoid any stalls which exposes the food to the sun, to flies, or is not as stored as it should be. Aim for stalls where the food is freshly cooked, and if you are eating something perishable make sure that it comes out of a fridge, or that it at least looks fresh. (Photo courtesy: Adam Cohn)


Spicy Food

Even if it’s the cleanest, some people are intolerant to spicy food, so if you are going to a country like India where spices are the highlight, try to slowly build up your spicy food tolerance. (Photo courtesy: Austronesian Expeditions)


Wash Your Hands Or Use Any Hand-Sanitizer

Specially in places where you must eat using your fingers “don’t even think about asking for cutlery as you will sound rude, ignorant, and you will totally ruin the exeprience”. In case you don’t have a sanitizer, rinse the water off your hands before eating, as the water might be infected. (Photo of Ethiopian food that’s eaten without cutlery, and it’s yummi)

Ethiopian Food - Blog

Take Typhoid & Hepatitis A Shots (OPTIONAL)

As I strongly believe that street-food is an essential part of any successful travel experience, one that gives a real sense of place, so being a quite adventurous foodie has taught me that it’s better to be safe now, than sorry later, that’s why whenever I travel to a developing country I never leave without getting a Typhoid and a Hepatitis A shots, however nothing can prevent you from Diarrhea so always carry Antinal tablets and you are good to go. (Photo courtesy: U.S. Army Corps Of Engineers)


Roughly Know What You Are Eating

This one is very important, some foods might look tastier than they really are -specially in Asia-, don’t be adventurous to the extent that you don’t roughly know what you are eating actually is. When I was in Bangkok I had the hardest time eating street-food as I hardly understood what the vendors where trying to explain, needless to say that all sorts of “edible” barbecued insects, bugs and scorpions, fried chicken skin chips-like and a lot of of weird stuff are sold. (Photo courtesy: Jirka Matousek)


Observe Your Vendor’s And The Place’s Hygiene

This one is so easy to observe. The utensils and the cook should look clean, and the ambiance has to be inviting. (Photo courtesy: Mark Hodson)


Avoid Salads And Sauces

Those are usually a common reason to fall sick, as most places store them for too long in the fridge, or even outdoors then add seasoning to hide their unpleasant taste of being over-refrigerated, under-refrigerated, or preserved for too long. (Photo courtesy: Mamichan)


Now is your turn to tell us, where was your most daring street-food experience? And if you are not a street-food fan, would you follow these tips and start trying what you are missing? Let us know in the comments below, we would love to hear from you 🙂

11468224145_e383b4f084_zPhoto courtesy: Rajesh Pamnani

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Our Readers Comments

  1. I was borne in Egypt in port tewfic i left when I was about 20 years old I have been eating street food 3-4 times a week at night with my friends and never been sick .ooooh those unforgettable smelles and tastes.

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