Whether its from large night markets, or small streets with a handful of stalls, street food is a massive part of the culture in places like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and more.
Unfortunately, sometimes we're a bit weary on whether to eat the delicious smelling food for fear of getting food poisoning, after-all, we have no idea whether the food is good or not right?
The good news is, there's a lot of ways to determine whether the food is good to eat or if it's a bad call, we're going to go through 6 simple steps for determining if you're good to munch on some street food - or if you should pass.
1. Make Sure the Stall Isn't Operated by a Lone Vendor
The best street foods are from stalls that are bunched together, at least a few in the same area. This means they're established and the area likely has high foot traffic.
You can go a step further and buy from large night markets if you're uncomfortable with smaller ones. For instance, the Rot Fai Train Night Market in Bangkok, or the Jalan Alor Night Food Court in Kuala Lumpur. Eating in places like these are guaranteed to keep your tummy bug free.
2. See If Locals Are Buying From the Stall
A sure sign that a stall is serving quality food is if locals are buying from the stall. A bad stall will never survive if it only relies on tourists and this isn't just for street food - the same thing applies to local restaurants.
3. Look at Whether the Food Is Being Freshly Cooked in Front of You
If the food has been sitting in a pot, or off to the side of the stall - this means it likely has been sitting there for a while and there hasn't been much foot traffic. You don't want to eat food that's been sitting there in a non-temperature controlled environment.
Another top tip is to take note if meat, soup or other food that already been cooked prior, is being re-heated. Don't buy from these stalls either.
4. Make Sure the Stall Is Serving Local Food - Not Western Food
If you buy a taco from a street food vendor in Hanoi, Vietnam - you're going to have a bad time... Western street food vendors in Southeast Asian countries are rarely for the locals, meaning they make their money off tourists.
They neither have the fresh ingredients or the motivation to make sure the food is quality, as they have a customer base that's rotating - they don't rely on locals.
There are exceptions to this though - for instance, if a stall is following all of the first 3 requirements, then you can be sure it's good. Examples of this are in the walking street area in Pai, Thailand where you can get things like lasagna that's cooked perfectly and is delicious because it's a part of a group of permanent stalls, it's made fresh, and locals buy from it too.
5. Keep an Eye out for How the Food Is Being Treated
If there isn't a dedicated space with a chopping block, water supply, clean looking kitchenette, and you're seeing the raw ingredients (especially meat) being left around in the sun for instance - don't go there.
It's a street food stall so they won't have everything, but you can definitely tell if meat has just been laying around, there's no ice, or not concerted effort to keep the ingredients fresh.
6. Don't Eat Street Food Outside of Peak Hours
Peak hours are usually the lunch rush, and around dinner time. If you try to get street food during times where there aren't many people, that means the food is likely not being freshly cooked. It's safer, more delicious, and fresher when you buy your street food during a rush/peak time.
This way the food is hot, straight off the fire, and is ready to eat without the anxiety in the mix.
If you follow these 6 tips, and exercise common sense during your travels, the likelihood of getting sick will be extremely low. You can safely eat all the street food you like, and enjoy the countries local food culture! 😋