How to Eat Street Food Without Getting Sick

street food without getting sick

In my decade of nomadic travel, one of the of the most frequent questions from readers was a very straightforward one: how can I try delicious food from around the world without getting sick? I’ve received this question from readers all over, and often about street food. It’s part of what led me to write a longer form book about that very topic.

I did not grow up obsessed with food, which is a surprise to many who read this site. People I meet nowadays laugh when I tell them that I used to see food as a simple necessity, not a joy. In my early 20s, however, I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which meant that I had to start paying attention to each ingredient as I ate. While traveling, this led to interacting differently with food vendors since I needed to ask many more questions in order to eat safely. What started as an obligation to keep me safe morphed not long thereafter into my present obsession with eating the world.

My food journey may have begun with restrictions on eating, but it inhabits a wide open space of curiosity. Food is the most intensive and rewarding lens I used to learn about a new place, and staying curious about why dishes are prepared a certain way, or how ingredients are used, led me to experience destinations differently.

While I always enjoyed my travels prior to eating my way through them, the feel of those years is less intense and colourful than what I feel about traveling through food. Street food, too, is such an integral part of why I travel, and a wonderful way to soak in the sights and sounds of the places I’m visiting. And even if eating obsessively isn’t your jam, it’s still important to make sure you try foods as safely as possible.

Which is why I finally sat down to write the post you have all been asking me for.

My tips for eating street food without getting sick

My pre-trip research for food simply consisted of reading a book called How to Shit Around the World, which I highly recommend doing on a crowded subway trip. The book has entertaining vignettes, practical advice, and a lot of tips about eating abroad. Despite consuming the book from start to finish, I went to South America and promptly ate a lukewarm llama empañada, and then threw up for 4 days straight as I crawled my way through the Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia.

“Ok,” I said to myself, “rule number 1 is do not eat your favourite animal when you eat street food.”

An acquaintance got sick in Chiang Mai recently and said, “but I didn’t even eat the street meat”. I shook my head in dismay. “That’s probably why you got sick.” He went to a tourist restaurant during off-peak hours. Two strikes against his stomach right there. Even years later, I still hear people saying this, “oh, I don’t know how I got sick when I didn’t even eat the street food!”.

how to eat street food without getting sick
Hu tieu nam vang from a street stall in Saigon, Vietnam

In my years of travel, I have fallen off a motorbike when a truck full of cabbages and pineapples rained vegetables down on me, gotten bronchitis, lung damage, a broken toe, and dengue fever. Not all at once, mind you. But they were difficult challenges, even when spaced out.

Food poisoning, however, was very rare. Since quitting my job as a lawyer in 2008 to travel, I got sick only a few times. The most recent one was when I ate a yoghurt at the 7-11 in Thailand in 2011, a full 12 years ago.

That’s right, I have not gotten food poisoning since 2011 despite eating street food all the time. This includes street food in India during my 2013 trip there, and many delicious curbside meals in Oaxaca, Mexico, where I lived from 2015-2017. I realize people are worried about food poisoning, and the advice out there does seem to suggest restaurants are safer. As you’ll read below, though, I respectfully disagree — though as noted in this piece, there are some caveats.

Once you know what to look for, pay attention to what locals eat and when, then you are on your way to delicious meals that serve as experiences as well as dinner, and hopefully don’t have you hugging the toilet bowl later. No advice is a fail-proof method, of course.

This is what has worked for me in my decade of eating the world.

1. Check out the length of the lineups.

how to eat street food without getting sick
Mexico City food stalls at lunchtime

Everyone tells you to eat at the stalls with the longest line of locals. This is still good advice! But I always add that it’s important to look at who is in line. I know my stomach is potentially less resilient than that of a taxi driver used to quick street meats, so I try to opt for street stalls with both women and children in line.

More variety in the customer base usually means the stall has been vetted enough that it’s safe for everyone. Yes, it’s still better to choose a long lineup of men over crickets and an empty stall, but given the choice, women and children in line is where you want to go.

2. Go back to school at lunchtime.

For a cheap lunch, go to the local university and find a place nearby to eat. Students are a hungry bunch, and often some of the fun variations of east meets west pop up here. In Saigon, “pho burgers” were present but so were cheap stalls that served local favorites to a rotating cast of students. It won’t be the best meal of your life, but it will be local, fast, cheap, and usually delicious. Not recommended for dinnertime, however, as the meals will have sat out for the afternoon.

3. Take advantage of a transparent kitchen: street stalls!

As I said in the introduction, I feel like I have more control with a street stall because I can see how the food and the money is handled. If someone is touching the money and then the raw ingredients, I don’t eat there. If there are plastic gloves for the food-making and then they are kept on for handling money? Same – it’s a miss. For two-party stalls often one person will be in charge of the cash and cooking, and the other preparation. This is a good bet, since they are kept separate.

Basically, avail yourself of your senses when choosing where to eat.

That’s not to say that I avoid restaurants entirely! But where there is a culture of street food (like Mexico City or Saigon or Bangkok) I will usually eat all of my meals on the street.

If you are heading to Saigon, my Saigon Street Food Guide will give you a good overview of where to eat in the city.

4. Detailed translation cards for those with food allergies or restrictions.

I have celiac disease, and another reason I eat on the street is that I can modify the meal as it is cooked, instead of relying on pre-made sauces that might get me sick. I made my own translation cards because the ones I bought or downloaded still got me sick because they were insufficiently detailed. For example, many vendors don’t realize that soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and oyster sauce all contain wheat flour. Each card goes through two sets of translations and is researched by a celiac who loves to eat.

You can find my celiac restaurants cards and accompanying long guides for countries around the world here.

Friends with peanut allergies also carry translation cards, and of course due diligence is needed to know what ingredients have to be avoided. If you’re looking for nut allergy or shellfish allergy cards, you can head to Select Wisely or Equal Eats.

These cards go a long way toward getting your point across — certainly more so than my initial “gesture feverishly while mimicking getting ill over food” — and Select Wisely has a strongly worded option for those with more life-threatening allergies. You could also bring a Point It Dictionary if you’re concerned about eating food you can’t place. Also fun for trading words in your respective language when on a long train ride. I am also in the process of building my own celiac cards with highly detailed notes tailored to specific countries.

5. Cutlery as culprit for getting sick on the road.

how to eat street food without getting sick - somtam salad in Asia
Watching how the cutlery is washed is important.

Cutlery can be a source of bacteria even if the food is safe and fresh. I carry baby wipes with me for older wooden chopsticks that look like they need a wipedown, or for utensils that don’t seem well-washed. It will get you some weird looks but it can be helpful to ensure the cutlery is clean. Alternatively, cute portable chopsticks will do the trick. I carry these ones at all times.

I rarely make use of this extra cleaning-or-chopsticks system but have found it really useful to have the option, especially when outside of urban centers. A bonus: if you need to use the washroom and forgot toilet paper you always have your baby wipes!

6. Morning markets are a great way to start the day.

morning street food starts your day off right
Hue’s Dong Ba market in the morning.

When readers write about where to start with street food, I always suggest they head to a busy local produce market. Be it the many rotating markets around Inle Lake in Myanmar to morning food markets in Mexico City, or on a side trip to a small village — if it has a produce market, it usually has some freshly cooked food. Because these stalls are set up to feed the hungry shoppers, there is quick turnover. I’ve found that a way to experience a daunting new food spectrum is to start at these markets and try the foods one by one.

Plus, many people opt for hotels with breakfasts included, or for a more Western breakfast of yoghurt and fruit. While that may be an option, I’d highly recommend dining at a market instead. If you love the food you try, you can ask the vendor where they are during the day, or if they don’t serve that food elsewhere, where they would suggest you try it instead.

All in all, markets are an excellent way to kickstart your tastebuds and all of your other senses.

I am not a morning person, but on my travels I become one because these markets are one of the most memorable, tasty, and interesting ways to spend a few hours of my time.

7. What time do locals eat? That’s when you want to be eating.

street food in asia without getting sick
Street stalls move around as people do; eat when the locals eat!

One of the pieces of advice I give to tourists, especially European ones who eat a bit later than North Americans, is to try to mimic the local food times for their meals. I realize that 6pm dinners or 11am lunches don’t fit the usual meal patterns for most, but it can be very helpful for your stomach if that’s when locals eat.

This is especially important when dishes are cooked and set out buffet style, as you’d want to eat them when they are fresh and before bacteria can form as the food cools. For me, this means shifting my meal times somewhat but it is worth it because the food is piping hot, newly cooked, and doesn’t get me sick.

8. Fully cooked food is safest, always.

Remember my llama empañada? Yup, I disregarded this advice entirely. The center of the snack was cold and I still finished it off. DON’T BE ME. If it’s not fully cooked and it’s supposed to be a hot meal, ask for it to be cooked a bit more.

I’ve gotten more adventurous over the years, eating raw shrimp dishes in Thailand and fresh herbs in places where I don’t know the water source. This has been a product of my own risks and my understanding of what my stomach can handle. Happily, even in North India I didn’t get sick, despite eating street food. Why? I made sure it was fully cooked, freshly made, and my mum and I also decided to stick to the meal times of locals. (I have to say I was a bit surprised as I anticipated getting sick at least once given the stories of my friends but happily I did not!)

9. Beware of ice or fruit shakes where water may be contaminated.

street food in asia without getting food poisoning
Paying attention to how fruit shakes are made goes a long way! Mrs. Pa in Chiang Mai uses safe water and safe ice.

I order drinks with ice in Saigon or Bangkok, where filtered water is subsidized and available cheaply for the general population. I’ve also spent quite a bit of time in both cities and have never gotten sick from the water or ice. That said, when I travel outside the cities I try to avoid ice or fruit shakes with ice because I do not know how the ice was made. If there’s an easy thing to cut out where the water isn’t safe, ice is the first to go. Fruit shakes in Laos downed quite a few of my friends because the ice was not made from distilled water. Best to be sure, especially if you’re frequently on the move.

In Mexico, it was the same thing. If it’s not piping hot, I’m going to ask if they’re using filtered water to make the drink. If in doubt, I’ll use my own water to chase down my meal.

10. In some destinations, sticking to vegetarian dishes may be helpful.

In some destinations, I avoid meat if I am really concerned about food poisoning. When I took my mum to India, we ate street food but stuck to vegetarian eats for the most part. The times we did eat meat we were told we were taking a risk, but we decided to regardless because we were excited about the food. Even the most carnivore of friends tend to temporarily avoid meat in places where water is extremely contaminated.

11. Peel your fruit—or don’t eat it.

food safety: eating fruit while you travel
Rambutan, the “hairy fruit”, in Vietnam. These are easy to peel and great as a snack.

Unless you are used to a new place and its bacteria, I would only eat peelable fruit. Bananas, papaya, mango, rambutan, mangoesteens and more — there is no shortage of delicious fruit that has a peel, and your stomach will thank you. Avoid lettuce, or fruit with skin you eat (like apples).  Strawberries, while tempting, ought to be avoided in countries with high pollution and a questionable water system.

12. Sauces can be a problem, especially if left unrefrigerated.

I love a good table condiment, but occasionally the sauces are what causes travelers some distress. The reason is that in many destinations they are kept at room temperature, meaning they can breed bacteria over time. I tend to gauge my sauce usage on the amount of consumption from other diners: if it’s a food where condiments are used liberally (e.g. bun rieu soup in Vietnam, where it would be blasphemous to skip adding wet chili paste), I go for it. If I can see crust on the side of the sauce, or a few drops are used at a time, I will take my time trying the salsas or sauces to ensure they are not unrefrigerated indefinitely.

I am currently in Oaxaca, Mexico, and I have eaten sauces for all my meals thus far without issue. I have also chosen places teeming with people and families, and watched almost everyone scoop liberal amounts onto their food.

What to do if you get food poisoning?

The tips above are not guarantees and even the most iron cast stomachs can be felled occasionally by a food misadventure. It is part and parcel of the risk inherent in traveling.

If you get food poisoning or a stomach illness, then a visit to a local doctor might be in order. Many of them are familiar with traveler’s diarrhea but also with any lingering viruses circulating in the region. I do not take Imodium unless and until I have an absolute emergency in the form of a long bus ride plus food poisoning.

I would caution against trying to rehydrate immediately with sweetened sport electrolyte drinks because I’ve found the high levels of sugar in those drinks actually make me feel worse if the bacteria are still in my system. Instead, I stick to a steady diet of oral rehydration salts, rice (bread is a substitute if you are not gluten-intolerant) and bananas. Hydrate as much as possible.

Trioral oral rehydration salts are recommended by the World Health Organization, but in the event you don’t have them I have never found a pharmacy in my years of travel that won’t stock a version of these tablets in their stores. They don’t taste great but they are important if you do get sick.

For more tips for packing on your travel, see my World Travel Resources Page

What do I pack to make my stomach feel better?

Here are some items I keep in my bag, no matter the destination.

Probiotics for Travel

I would also recommend traveling with probiotics that don’t need refrigerating. They have helped me get back on track the times I have been sick, and I feel better when I take them. For years, I used the extremely compact Hyperbiotics Pro-15 probiotics, time release pearl capsules that have accompanied me for years. They include some of the strains I wanted to be sure I got in my body.  I realize not everyone is sold on probiotics and that’s fair, but as always I am sharing my experiences.

For people with allergies or mast cell activation disorder or histamine intolerance, I highly recommend this D-Lactate free shelf-stable formula. There are some probiotics strains that increase histamine, and others that reduce it. In a new environment, you want a reducer and this is a good blend.

Activated Charcoal: a Traveler’s Best Friend

I use activated charcoal when I feel a bit queasy, if I’ve got a hangover, and if I ate gluten by mistake and want to do what I can to mitigate. It has helped me tremendously and I don’t leave home without it, even in North America.

You can get these on Amazon, at the 7-11 in Thailand, or at most natural health stores. I’ve picked more up in Mexico, Vietnam, Laos, and many other countries.

They’re very reasonably priced.

Digestive Enzymes for Travel

I find these useful for me as a celiac, but friends carry them also despite not having any food restrictions.  I use this product because it has DPP-IV (Dipeptidyl Peptidase IV) in it, which helps break down gluten and casein. To be clear, I use these NOT to eat gluten but for times I mistakenly eat gluten and feel very sick. (It is essentially an emergency tool for me; there is no fix for the disease). For non-celiacs a general digestive enzyme like this would normally suffice.

Fresh Ginger Tea for Stomach Upset

You can almost always find fresh ginger as you travel, but just in case I bring a few of these ginger root teabags with me to take when my stomach feels a bit off. They are soothing and as a bonus the warm tea helps calm me just before bed.

Ultimately, when I am sick is when I feel loneliest as a solo traveler, so I am very grateful for technology that lets me chat with friends no matter where I am!

Do you have awful jet lag when you travel? See my long piece about circadian rhythms and body clocks, including my detailed protocol for jet lag so you can beat it for once and for all. 

Resources & Inspiration For Food Lovers

I wanted to end this post with some of the books and sites I’ve gone to over and over again to further fuel my love of food. The first is practical, the rest are suggested for the beauty of the scenes they conjure in prose and photos.

Books to Read for Food Lovers

  • How to Shit Around the World: a doctor’s advice about staying healthy as you travel, food and otherwise. Written with humor and joy, from someone who has been around the world.
  • Eating Vietnam: a new book from Graham Holliday, famous for his delightful Noodle Pie blog, on his many incredible meals on the streets of Vietnam. As someone who loves Vietnamese food, especially eating it on those tiny blue stools on the side of the road, this book was just wonderful to read.
  • Lucky Peach’s Street Food issue: covering Chiang Mai, Mexico City, Mumbai, and Buenos Aires.
  • The World’s Best Street Food: A large food book from Lonely Planet that doubles as a guide. It talks about the kinds of foods in each street food mecca, how they are made, and their primary ingredients and underlying story, and then provides recipes so you can make them at home.
  • Heat: I read this book years ago but it remains a huge fave, one of those books I was sad came to an end. It follows Bill Buford’s adventures when he decides to apprentice in Mario Batali’s kitchen, then learns how to be a line cook, a pasta-maker, and an apprentice to a Dante-quoting butcher in Tuscany.
  • Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper: Fuchsia Dunlop’s memoir of her time eating in China was so lovingly crafted that I could not concentrate until I finished the book. A great insight into not just her travels but also Chinese culture as seen from outside eyes.
  • Spice: The History of a Temptation: Written by Jack Turner, a Brit with a great sense of humor, this history of spices and the spice trade takes you through the ages and into the minds and palates of explorers from hundreds of years ago to present day.
  • Salt: A World History: Essential reading from Mark Kurlansky about the history of the world’s most overlooked white powder, and how its use changed the way we function in the world and how much we were able to explore it by sea.

Cookbooks I Love

  • Latin American Street Food: The best flavors from the markets and beaches and roadside stands in Latin America, from Mexico down to Argentina, in recipes you can make at home.
  • David Thompson’s Thai Street Food: A bible for those who love to eat Thai food, this cookbook combined with travelogue is a must for your shelf. It’s heavy, but you’ll enjoy it.
  • Burma: Rivers of Flavor: I’ve gifted this book to friends and family alike because Naomi Duguid beautifully captures the colors, flavors, and fascinating history from her many months in Burma (Myanmar).

Food Sites and Podcasts to Learn From

There’s nothing more satisfying to me than learning about the stories and history behind the foods on my plate. Here are a few websites that I turn to time and time again as starting points for these culinary explorations:

Hopefully with this guide you will not shy away from street food entirely, but instead pick judiciously and enjoy not just the explosion of tastes on your tongue but also the glorious chaos of sitting on the street and surveying the scene as you eat.

Bon appetit!


171 thoughts on “How to Eat Street Food Without Getting Sick”

  1. Thank you so much for this list! I consider myself a moderately experienced traveler and I had never thought of a few of these. Wonderful article :)

  2. Some great tips there, Jodi, both for new and seasoned travellers.

    So many people avoid street food for the fear of falling sick at unfamiliar places. But, as you have beautifully shown, it need not be so. It’s possible to stay healthy AND experience the joy of discovering local food — at the same time. I’ve had my share of learning travelling through the streets of India and South Asia and I can whole-heartedly vouch for this.

    Thanks for sharing these practical suggestions and helpful resources. I loved the post and have added it to my “Top Food Stories of the Month”.

  3. Hi Jodi, I just learned about you through the Tropical MBA podcast. It’s so awesome to see a fellow Chiang Mai “disciple” educating people about eating right! I lived in Thailand for three and a half years, the majority of the time in Chiang Mai. I just moved back to the States for a little while with my girlfriend, but there’s so much that we miss, including the vibrant street markets and the communal atmosphere. Your podcast interview inspired me to recount my entire Chiang Mai story for the first time on my blog.

  4. I recently got sick from eating street food in Myanmar, but I have to say it was the VERY first time I have ever gotten sick from street food and I eat street food absolutely everywhere…. Laos, Thailand, Viet Nam, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia. I live to eat street food!! Your comments and tips are right on! Look for the line up of people, look at the surfaces that the food is being prepared on. I remember being near a train station in India eating vegetarian food which was absolutely delicious ~ yes, the surroundings were rustic and extremely basic and it would appear at first glance “dirty.” In actual fact, the surfaces for preparing the food were absolutely spotless and immaculate. Better than most home kitchens!

    As you say Jodi, most people I know who do get sick while travelling, get sick from tourist restaurants where the food has been sitting.

    Here are a few Green Global Trek tips to add to your fab ones:

    *I always buy fresh ginger from a market whenever we can so that if I do get a stomach problem, the ginger sliced up in hot water, my water bottle or straight up, is a great help with stomach queasiness or indigestion.

    *If you do get sick, the best thing you can do to rehydrate is to start drinking fresh coconut water, which in many Asian countries is easy to come by. It immediately rehydrates the body.

    *When eating fried foods, check the state of the oil first. Many places reuse the oil and this is what creates problems.

  5. Great article and tips. My travels are also generally inspired by my appetite one way or another. I definitely agree with street food being a better bet than restaurants. Not necessarily because you can see what is happening, although great point, never really thought of it, but just based on my own experience. Been sick twice on the road. Once from a restaurant in Thailand on my first trip there and another in India from the guesthouse on a real lazy day.
    I’ve read a couple of your book recommendations, but I’ll have to check out a few other. Always enjoy a good foodie read.

  6. I too rarely get sick from eating street food. I think I picked up 1x typhoid fever at the Gianyar night market near Ubud. Too much food set out, served cold and handled with bare hands…. I love it when (veg) food is cooked in a wok right before my eyes, sizzling hot is safe- And on the other hand avoid food stalls that have huge vats of food on offer that clearly won’t be sold the same day… I often buy from vendors selling homemade snacks especially when I see the neighborhood lining up to buy- things like small bags of peanuts, roasted sweet potatoes, frozen yoghurt, sweet sticky rice wrapped in charred leaves aaaaahhh

  7. Spot on about the sauces and fresh water. These are the only two that I really take into consideration when buying street food.

  8. Amazing help! We tried street food once and had great luck, but I will put all of these tips to use! Thank you!

  9. Your post is so detailed and informative. Great advice. I love it. However, have you ever consider the ingredients of the dishes. The street food is cheap and I am worried that the vendors collect not-very-fresh ingredients to make food.

    1. What kinds of ingredients worry you? The vegetables and herbs are fresh else you’d notice – wilted veggies and perilla are quite noticeable, and you’d be able to tell right away and choose a different stall. If you’re referring to meat then it’s more difficult for the ingredients to be less fresh when the turnover is quite fast — that is why I recommend that you choose stalls that are busy, such that they’d be forced to buy new ingredients daily to meet their demand.

      1. Yes. I worry that they buy meat from untrusted and unqualified sources. Actually, good meat is different from fresh-looking meat. Some people know how to make meat fresh by unknown chemical.

        1. LOL. Why don’t you just travel with your own packs of frozen food?
          With traveling comes possibly unfavorable outcomes. You’re going to travel to experience new cultures, so do it. Over-worrying/over-analzying will only keep you from really enjoying yourself and taking in as much of the place you’re visiting.

  10. What a great and useful guide, Jodi! When it comes to travel around the world, i love the foods and want to taste them. I’m afraid of food poisoning or a stomach illnessonly so i only eat hot fully cooked dishes and i avoid a lot of foods which are not suitable for me. You reminded me of my Vietnam tour. I ate many street foods there and i specially love Vietnamese noodle soups. I hate the shrimp paste because of its smell. Thanks for the info and I will be referring back to this on mu upcoming tours.

  11. Absolutely fantastic posting! Lots of useful information and inspiration, both of which we all need!Really appreciate your work

  12. What a great post! I’m now considering going vegetarian for my time in India! Hopefully I can avoid getting sick! Thanks!

  13. In Thailand, I’d go to the Thammasatt University canteen, sitting right by the river with students munching their kind of food and at half the price for the same in Khao San Rd. In 5 years of travelling I haven’t been sick once – probably just good luck :)

  14. I get so sad when people tell me that they are not eating street food during their travels. Maybe it is because I am blessed with an iron stomach, but I enjoy my mystery meats, the dips and sauces, the strange flavors and the heat from a thousand chili peppers. I love your advice and I absolutely agree with your tips to eat where the locals eat. I try to stay away from “westernized” restaurants as much as possible and it has been working well for me.

  15. Thank you Jodi, I personally don’t like trying street food (really scare of Monsters Inside Me), but sometimes there is no option. I am planning a trip to Mexico for this year; the last time I went I tried so hard not to get food poisoning and at the end I got sooo sick, not even funny. But, yes some of the tips you wrote, it’s something that I’ve learned over time, specially when traveling with 3 kids. Thanks.

  16. Such a great list of advice! I love markets and especially mornign markets. In Vienna there was a market next to my hostel and was my favourite choice for a breakfast early in the morning. It was full of people going to buy their groceries. Such a vibrant place!
    Also, definitely agree on the tips about the people on the queue. Every time I read or hear someone suggesting – go to the biggest queue I think “Okay, but what about what kind of people are in the line”.

  17. The post is absolutely great. I like to eat local food during my travels and I keep in my mind all things which you’ve written. Thank you!

  18. I am going to Nepal on Friday. I will take your advice and be a vegetarian while you are there. Thanks! I am more nervous about getting food poisoning that I am the plane ride or the ebc!!!

  19. Wonderfully, detailed article, thank you! When I went to Seoul for the 1st time I was nervous about this and missed out, so during my 2nd trip back this summer I dove in and all was well. Love the idea of carrying your own chopsticks around. Thanks for the great info.

  20. Great advice I will send this link to our fellow travellers. I love street food and your tips about choosing the stall wisely are very good. Oaxaca in Mexico is our next trip in January 2017 . We love salads and fruit so this is going to be a big change for us. I will use your tips wisely and if you have any stall suggestions in this area I’d love to hear about them. Keep up this great blog , stumbling across it is really exciting.

  21. As a Vietnamese I agree with most of your advisory tips in the article, but to be more specific, those who ever intend to drop by my country looking for something typical, traditional and of reasonable price to settle their stomachs, I would say “you should be scared and highly aware of the extreme level of food poisoning in Vietnam”, sickness quite regularly comes from food ingredients, not from utensils or vendors’ hands because the local authorities are losing control over the quality of goods, especially foodstuff slipped in from China nearby. Even locals with long-term trained stomachs like me got trapped many times and anyone can tell the consequence. I am going to remind you that school zone is not safe for foreign street-food lovers where vendors are running for profit caring almost nothing about food safety, cheaper ingredients mean lower price and more customers, don’t forget that students are the most price-sensitive consumers. So be careful with school zones, foodies! And one more thing, don’t trust your eyes on peelable fruits there, the most beautiful ones could be the most dangerous. Bananas, papaya, mango, durian, jackfruit, so forth are getting dipped in some toxic chemicals to beautify their appearances. Don’t go for the perfect ones, just go for the acceptable naturally ripe ones. “Acceptable” here means it may contain some flaws, scratches, bruises, not picturesque like in advert photos. Some highly recommended local fruits yet tasty with less possibility of being poisoned are mangosteen, lychee, longan, langsat, sapodilla, rambutan, pomelo, star apple, dragon fruit… can’t think of them any more as I can’t hold my mouth from watering LOL

  22. Great article, we’ve been in South America for 2.5 months so far so good, little nervous about Bolivia but have previously travelled in India and SE Asia without getting sick. Meanwhile a family member was recently hospitalised with Salmonella after eating from a student food truck at a university in Australia, where she works! Avoiding travel/streetfood won’t take away the risks entirely, but these kinds of tips are so helpful to reducing them!

  23. Thanks for a very useful and entertaining article Jodi – I will definitely be applying your tips on our upcoming trip to Vietnam – I am sooo excited for all the delicious street food! I wish I’d read this before my South America travels 2 years ago – we got awful food poisoning after we ate fried fish at a tourist restaurant in the Galápagos Islands on a public holiday. Everything else was closed and no locals were about as they all head to the mountains for a picnic on that particular holiday. We had eaten at this place before, so thought it was safe… but it was the wrong time and the food must have been standing around all day. Could barely drag ourselves to our flight the next day! Live and learn ;)

  24. This is such a helpful and insightful article. Enjoying street food while being safe is not rocket science but about being mindful and watchful. Thanks for sharing

  25. These are some great advice, Jodi. It can be challenging and difficult to choose the safest and the best street food when you are in a foreign country, but following your tips mitigates the risk of making a bad choice. Thank you!

  26. I love to take a taste of local foods while traveling, I always afraid of food poisoning, What a great tips and useful guide, Jodi! thanks for sharing

  27. Hi Jodi,
    Great and informative post! I am traveling to Thailand for the first time in July and I also have Celiac Disease. I saw your other page with the traveler’s cards, which I will definitely make use of! I am curious, did you have a hard time finding gluten free options? Were a lot of dishes made with soy sauce in Thailand? And is there anything you would suggest looking out for? Thanks for the tips! Safe travels!

    1. Hi Lauren, thank you for the comment. I am actually working on my Thailand guide at the moment, and hope to have it up soon. Yes, many dishes are made with soy sauce in Thailand. It is far harder to eat there (or was for me) than in Vietnam. I found the easiest thing is to stick to curries but ask if there are soy sauce, or get street food fried rice with no soy sauce, etc. Isaan food is easier (sticky rice, etc). Soup broths have often had soy sauce in them, sadly. Hope to have my guide up by the time you go, but if no please send me an email through the contact form on the site and I’ll forward you a draft.

  28. Thank you so much for this! I spent a huge amount of time sick in Thailand and it ruined my vacation. Now, I’m leaving for Indonesia and more of SEA and I desperately want to avoid being sick. Your post really helped and hopefully I’ll be able to follow your tips and be fine!

  29. You are amazing for writing all of this! I’ll be heading to SE Asia for the first time this fall, and can’t wait to try all the street food there.

  30. Hi Jodi,

    That’s a great list of tips. I’m planning for a Euro Trip next year and although relates more to south east Asia & less to Europe, the point you made about eating at the time locals eat makes great sense to me.
    Being an avid traveler, I’m wondering why did this never occur to me, lol.

    And referring to your point about meat, you should also avoid meat at shady places in India because sometimes the meat may be under-cooked which can leave you with a bad stomach. And tourists should prefer disposable plates & spoons wherever possible as most vendors don’t give much effort towards proper washing of utensils which could lead to problem. Just my 2 cents here.

    And thanks for the article again Jody, cheers :)

  31. Great list, thank you! One thing is absolutely essential: The busier the spot is with locals, the better not only the food, the safer it also is. Living in Asia for several years, I got food poisoning three times at the malls and “Western” restaurants, never at local kitchens.
    Yes, in the beginning your stomach needs some time to get used to the change of diet, but it’s totally worth it.

  32. I also have eaten pretty much everything everywhere with only one serious illness (Russian market in Phnom Penh a decade ago when I violated rule 2 below). Three rules have served me well:
    1. If you are tempted, or even just curious, buy it.
    2. If you have any qualms about the hygiene once you own it, discard it untasted.
    3. If you are not enjoying it, stop eating.

    When disaster strikes, your recommendation of rehydration salts as a first treatment is spot on (though you seem not to realize that the main ingredient in them is sugar (13.5gm to about 4gm of salts), just like the sports drinks you ding for their sugar content).

    But I would also suggest carrying a course of cipro just in case the worst happens when you are someplace you cannot access good medical care.

  33. Great post! When visiting a new city I also love to find a walking food tour. I am very fond of to eat street food while visiting one place to another.

  34. Excellent well written article! Will definitely pass this on to my daughter who will be traveling to Thailand, Cambodia & Vietnam this month. Some great advice! I recently traveled to India for 7 weeks with no issues what so ever, lots and lots of water everyday and pretty much a veg diet while there. Glad I found this on Twitter :)

  35. Great article and very sound, sensible advice. I went to Singapore, and, although I’ve been told by friends and colleagues that the Hawker Centers and water are safe, I took a lot of precautions like getting Hep and Typhoid shots, I, unfortunately, still got sick from pretty much everything I ate. It all tasted great but what can you do? I was very careful (bottled water, thoroughly cooked hot food, no cut veggies or fruit and only beer and wine) and still got sick. I will definitely be back though. ;-) It’s not the end of the world. Sampling food from other countries is fascinating. Happy travels!

  36. I am so excited to find this post from a fellow celiac who is obsessed with food! This is the first post of yours that I’ve read, and I immediately bought your translation card for an upcoming trip to Oaxaca. It always makes me feel better to know that there are more celiacs who don’t think it’s reckless to travel or eat at new places. Thanks so much for the info and travel inspo!

    1. My pleasure, Kelly! I hope you enjoy your trip to Oaxaca. If you get a chance to visit Casa Taviche, the chef (Danni) knows celiac disease now that I’ve gone so many times — I lived around the corner — and if he is there you can tell him you have the same food / wheat issue as Jodi from Canada ;) Have fun!

  37. Great article!

    I’m late to this comment thread, but if no one else has mentioned it…

    It’s a good sign if parents are in line with small children, and are ordering for everybody. Children have developing immune systems and lower tolerance for infection, so if the local grown folks consider the food safe for the children, the odds are good that the food is safe for you as well.

  38. Very informative and useful! Even I am a Vietnamese, I’m really surprised by your knowledge about our food culture. I am very excited to see lots of Vietnamese soup and dishes appeared on your blog!!! Thanks for loving our food!

  39. I have a question, I have a severe case of diverticulitis and I’m going to Mexico, should I use the ceiliac diet while there?

  40. Nailed It! This is one of the best posts I have ever read about eating street foods without getting sick. I think, eating with local’s time is one of the best secrets to not get sick and also have fresh foods.

  41. I love the idea of bringing translation cards with your allergies. I think that’s probably a good practice traveling in general, but especially for street food! Great tips!

  42. What would you suggest travelers do when travelling to countries where garnishes or toppings are fresh and uncooked (think pho noodle soup or salsa etc? ) thanks

    1. It depends on the country, but I always tell people to err on the side of caution rather than not when it comes to raw toppings or veggies. In Vietnam, I did eat the garnishes in soups and spring rolls, but for those who are concerned, there were restaurants in town where they used filtered water to soak them. In Oaxaca, people soaked fresh produce in disinfectant almost across the board, and I did trust the garnishes – again, caveat emptor where they are concerned. In India, I did not go near any toppings that were uncooked, or left out in the sun. It really depends on comfort level, cleanliness of the area, and whether or not you’re willing to take the risk for the taste of a dish.

  43. I never thought about looking into who is in line. Of course mothers don’t want their children to get sick. A really smart advice! When we travel to Indonesia, I always made sure to order drinks from can or bottle, unless we stayed or ate at 5-stars hotel. Nobody wants to get sick during vacation, right?

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