If you’ve watched The Food Network or any of the numerous travel television channels before, you may have noticed that one of the biggest appeals of traveling to many people is trying loads of exotic foods. Celebrities like Anthony Bourdain have immortalized trying weird street food while you’re abroad, and each year thousands of Western tourists come to places like Asia and Africa with an appetite for exotic street foods they can’t get back home. Eating local foods can be great introduction to local culture, but there’s a few things you need to look out for when dining in foreign countries.
Without a doubt, your biggest concern when eating abroad should be sanitation. This is especially true if you’re a Western traveler visiting a third world country. Be sure to order from somewhere that’s clean and tries to meet at least a basic semblance of sanitation, or you run the risk of falling ill with a food born illness. Obviously, this advice is practical even when dining in your home country, but while abroad, your body will be exposed to all kinds of bacteria and viruses that don’t exist in your home country, making sanitation doubly important.
While most street food carts aren’t going to meet the cleanliness standards one might expect from a proper Western restaurant, you should still make sure they use clean dishes, properly store their ingredients, and clean up their cooking area after use. Fortunately, even local consumers have begun demanding a higher standard of cleanliness for street food carts, which has made it slightly less of a problem. This is especially true of street food carts where they cook in front of you. Look for street food carts that have lots of local customers, as these tend be both cleaner and tastier than their competitors.
Unless you’re in a developed Western country, you absolutely should not drink the tap water. It’s typically unprocessed and likely to contain pathogenic agents that will make you quite sick. Fortunately, it’s easy enough to avoid drinking tap water – just buy bottles! What’s more difficult, however, is to gauge whether or not the chef cooking your meal has used tap water or sanitized water. Since street food is typically cooked in front of you, it’s easy enough to ascertain where they got the water from. Still, be wary of chefs who go behind the stand or otherwise conceal their water usage. Tap water tends to be cheaper than sanitized water, so shady chefs have an incentive to cut corners and use poor quality water. Again, this can mostly be avoided by looking for popular street food carts. The locals wouldn’t keep eating at them at these carts if it was making them sick
If you’re an obvious foreigner, especially one from the Western world, you’ll almost always be asked for a higher price, often two to three times what locals pay. There’s a persisting mentality that all Westerners are wealthy and can afford to pay a higher price, or better yet, won’t even realize they’re paying a higher price. This is where haggling comes into the picture. While you’ll struggle to get the local price, you shouldn’t be paying too much more. Do some research online or ask a trusted local person what the fair price should be, then insist of receiving that price. This is often a problem at street food carts, which don’t have proper menus with listed prices. If you’re willing to haggle a bit and seek out sanitary carts, however, street food ends up being a very cheap, interesting, and safe way to eat while traveling abroad.