Our palates have vastly diversified just over the past couple of decades and it comes as no surprise that Indian, Thai and Middle Eastern cuisine, among many others have proven to be a hit with locals in the UK. Since food is the highlight of holidays and trips abroad for many, it’s even less surprising that an increasing number of travellers want a taste of the authentic cuisine of the country or region that they’re travelling to.
And street food? Is perhaps as authentic as it comes. With no frills and fanfare, street food is often served by no-nonsense local hawkers who have adapted recipes that have been passed on from generation to generation.
They often don’t look the prettiest and perhaps not the best quality ingredients are used to make these dishes, but no one can deny that they pack a punch in terms of taste and flavour. If you’re trying to pinch a few pennies during your trip, the answer is also street food.
If you’re looking to experience the authentic Thailand or Indonesia, have done your research on where exactly to get the best of street food in these countries and are ready to indulge in them, don’t forget to keep this in mind: Street food may not always be safe to eat and certain sorts should be avoided so that you can continue your trip without the risk of illness.
Traveller’s diarrhoea is the most commonly experienced ailment by those travelling abroad and incidence of this ailment is all the more common in travellers who head down to high-risk regions or countries.
We’ve put together a guide for you to look through before you indulge in your street food fantasies, but remember the most important point. You should always use your discretion when it comes to the matter of picking what sort of food to avoid and what sort to consume – your body is a temple after all.
Which countries are safe to eat street food in?
Regions with a low-risk of hepatitis A, typhoid, cholera and other food and water-borne illnesses are much safer places in general to whet your appetite for street food. If you’re visiting the following regions or countries, it’s not too much of a risk to indulge in your favourite dishes from local street vendors:
Remember, however, to still make it a point to evaluate the sanitary conditions of the street food stall and the state of the food before making a decision to consume the dish. After all, there have been breakouts of diseases such as salmonella in the United States and other countries in this list – food and water-borne diseases aren’t specific to developing countries.
That being said, there is a significantly higher risk of contracting ailments such as traveller’s diarrhoea, typhoid, salmonella and cholera in developing countries, where food and water hygiene and sanitation may not be the best. If you’re heading to the following regions for your holiday, be cautious when you pop a delicious morsel of street food into your mouth:
- Many parts of Asia, especially South Asia
- Most parts of the Middle East
- Many parts of Africa
- Latin America
Who should not eat street food?
Conditions such as traveller’s diarrhoea and salmonella are difficult to manage at best and can lead to sustained ill health and even fatalities in some cases, but they’re particularly dangerous to certain groups of people.
While healthy adults may be able to manage symptoms such as fatigue and cramps and keep their heads up till they can get medical attention, vulnerable groups of people may be more severely impacted by food and water-borne illnesses and may face more severe consequences. The following groups of people should either avoid street food altogether, have limited amounts of them or practise utmost discretion before choosing to eat such food items:
- Infants, toddlers and very young children
- Elderly persons
- Pregnant women
- People with weakened immunity
- Those suffering from inflammatory bowel disease
- Individuals with chronic kidney or heart disease
- Persons with reduced acidity in the stomach
Backpackers, teenagers and younger travellers are more frequently affected by food and water-borne diseases – perhaps because they’re more likely to take risks with the sort of food and beverages they consume when compared to the average traveller. So if you fall into any of the aforementioned three categories, think twice before taking any unnecessary risks that may affect the quality of your trip.
What kind of street food should you avoid?
So you’ve made up your mind to be budget-conscious for the entirety of this trip. Or perhaps your significant other wants to avoid tourist trap restaurants that serve inauthentic and washed out cuisine.
Go ahead and get a taste of street food for some wallet-friendly goodness if you don’t fall into any of the groups (mentioned above) that are particularly at risk. But choose wisely to avoid having your schedule disrupted by diarrhoea and to forestall a situation where you fall very ill in a foreign country. The following are some of the street food you should try to avoid:
- Raw or undercooked meat
- Raw or undercooked egg
- Raw or undercooked seafood: shellfish in particular
- Unpeeled fruit (unless you can fully peel and wash it)
- Beverages that are not hot
- Beverages with ice added
- Salads or any dish that has uncooked vegetables
- Food that is shared among a group of people and which may be contaminated by the saliva of others
- Water that is not bottled
- Any food that is likely to or that may possibly contain food items that you are allergic to
- Sauces that have been kept outside
- Food that’s not cooked in front of you or served piping hot
- Cooked food that has been left uncovered for quite a while
- Food that is swarmed by insects such as flies
- Unpasteurised dairy products such as milk or ice-cream
- Milkshakes or fruit shakes
- Food that’s avoided by locals or food vendors who have no patrons
What precautions should you take before you eat street food?
If you choose to indulge in street food especially in developing countries, keep in mind that although there is an ever-present risk of infection, there are ways to minimise and contain this risk. The following are some of the precautions you can take:
- Get vaccinated against common food and water-borne illnesses such as hepatitis A, typhoid and cholera – your travel health professional will determine which vaccines are suitable for you after reviewing your travel itinerary, any health conditions you may have and various other factors
- Wash your hands thoroughly with water and soap before eating street food. If you think that you might not have access to hand washing facilities at some points during your trip, bring along enough anti-bacterial wipes or hand sanitizer to disinfect your hands before the meal
- Stock up on probiotics, charcoal tablets, antacids and any other medication recommended by your GP that would assuage the symptoms of traveller’s diarrhoea or an upset stomach caused by unsanitary food
- Bring along your own bottled carbonated drink or bottled water instead of buying beverages in cups from street food vendors
- Pack your own cutlery and/or paper plates to be extra cautious, as cutlery and plates given by street food vendors may not have been washed properly and pose a risk of infection since they have been used by many others before
- Prepare translation cards that state any food allergies you may have in the native language of the country you are travelling to
Even if you’re a thrill-seeker or a traveller who likes to live life on the edge sometimes, remember that contracting a disease such as Hepatitis A or even traveller’s diarrhoea will be a draining and unpleasant experience for you and your travel partners. To avoid the possibility of your grad trip or honeymoon going sour, take all the necessary precautions before indulging in street food.
Make an appointment with us for more advice on food and water safety and to receive any recommended vaccinations before your holiday!