why you should always eat the street food when you travel

Nobody wants to spend a holiday curled up on the bathroom tiles. But nor should time abroad be wasted in the ubiquitous international burger chain just to be safe. It may seem risqué, but travellers who eat as the locals do have the most authentic experience.

If you need proof that your destination has not dwindled into a soulless museum of western frivolities and favours, head to the nearest food or produce market, or a roadside stall selling local fare, to a hole in the wall with a queue around the block, and eat. Local food eaten, well, as the locals eat it, is the best avenue into a place’s heart. Food, after all, is how we come together as humans, share knowledge and experience and the produce the environment blesses us with.

But is it safe? Is the onslaught of new flavours and textures even worth it? Yes, and yes. Here’s how to never worry about eating street meat and other local delicacies again. 

Not all street carts are created equal

But, as is true in Rome, when in any city, do as the locals do. Busy street food stalls are generally an indicator of popularity. The high turnover rate means food is not sitting around growing weary. Bacteria develops on food that is sitting at room temperature, so go for piping hot or chilled, or so fresh it’s bound to be pristine. Order what the locals are ordering, too, not just the safest best. Pointing and nodding does wonders when you’re hungry.

If you can’t drink the water, you can’t eat the salad. If you’ve been warned by fellow travellers or the hotel not to drink the water, then that extends to salad and other uncooked, unpeeled produce. Vegetables will be washed with tap water and likely grown in the same water, which is only acceptable if it’s being cooked to knock out all the bacteria.

Some local vendors are world famous

Take Kylie Kwong’s Chinese street-food stall at Eveleigh markets in Sydney. She is known for her offerings of native Australian ingredients and at Carriageworks she does pancakes with saltbush leaves. In New Delhi, India, Laxman Rao’s roadside chai stand has a faithful following. Bangkok heaves with wet markets, and any local will tell you it’s the best way to discover the city. Nang Loeng first opened in 1900, and the place is full of Chinese egg-noodle chops and curry-rice purveyors. Michelin stars begin to look a little paltry compared to the offerings of sticky-sweet, rice-flour dumplings called tua pap, stuffed with sweetened mung beans and covered in coconut and fresh coriander.

What would a chef do?

Ask any chef where they eat when they travel and you’ll hear collective praise for whatever the locals eat. Some make it their business to pry secret haunts from local chefs, and will plan a trip around new recommendations or places yet undiscovered. I for one have returned to a city just to try food from a stall I missed on a previous trip because it was closed when I got there. I build itineraries on the word that a little stall down a back alley is worth a try. It’s one hell of a way to travel. And oh, how I have eaten.

This article was produced for Open Colleges.

travel, writing, hotelsKate Gibbs