Let’s just make a statement about food from outdoor carts and stalls while you’re traveling. If you have any doubts or fears at all …. don’t eat any! If you follow that rule, you’ll never get sick from street-bought food. However, just about every tourist and traveler takes the chance once in awhile. Since I retired a dozen years ago, I’ve done it in many cities of the world: Paris, London, Rome, Panama City, Acapulco, Venice, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Oslo, St. Petersburg, Copenhagen and others.
Most of my Navy service assignments took me to the other side of the world, and I sampled outdoor goodies in Tokyo, Shanghai, Beijing, Seoul and Hong Kong. I’m sure I’ve been very lucky, because I never was sickened by street food anywhere. The only time I ever was seriously ill from bad food was once when the cooks in the galley on my ship used some spoiled leftover ham to make ham croquettes. A dozen sailors were seriously affected, and two had to be hospitalized. Fortunately, I only had 24 hours of wishing I was dead.
If you are traveling this summer and are tempted to try some street-bought food, here is some advice that will at least minimize your chances of getting ill.
First, if you’re elderly, on medications, have a delicate stomach or have recently recovered from a severe illness, before you leave for your travels, check with your family physician. Listen to the instructions you get from the experts, and go easy and simple on the street vender food.
Wash everything thoroughly, preferably with bottled water, before you eat on the street. The best precaution is to take lots of those chemically treated hand wipes, and polish off everything you intend to eat on the spot. Of course, make sure your own hands are washed with fresh wipes or soap and water before you gobble anything.
If you want to try main course cooked food, buy it only after you actually see it boiled, fried or steamed thoroughly while you wait and closely observe the procedure. Don’t buy cooked food that looks like it has been sitting around awhile, especially fish, poultry and meat.
Do as the natives do. If you see a gang of locals buying and eating at a particular cart, chances are its food is clean enough for you to try.
Before you venture out to the marketplaces, ask hotel staff or cruise ship crew about the best places to get clean food in the town. If you’re familiar with the language, check with police, taxi drivers and other locals.
The safest foods are those Mother Nature has seal-wrapped for you: bananas, oranges, peanuts and coconuts. Freshly opened coconut milk is safe, delicious and nutritious.
Even if you believe the food is safe, don’t overindulge. Many foods not native to your own country may be safe to others, but your stomach may find them unfamiliar and reject them, especially if you eat a large portion.