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The idea of street food usually brings two reactions. The first is the excitement at cheap, good food. The second is the terrified thought of getting sick from it and spending precious days of your vacation holed up in a bathroom feeling like you are going to die. Unfortunately, both can be a reality and yes, I have been on both ends.

However, I have also learned from my mistakes, picked up some tricks along the way, and can say that street food is one of my absolute favourites in southeast Asia. In fact, it was only after eating in a restaurant during my last 14 weeks of Asian adventures that made me sick (see tip #4 to avoid that). Which, as a girl who can’t handle spice and does not have a stomach of iron like most other avid travellers, is kind of a big deal.

So from the girl with the super sensitive stomach, here are my top 5 tried and tested survival tips for eating street food without getting sick.

Tips for eating street food

1) Follow the Crowds

 While you might usually want to stay away from the pack, this is not a situation where that was advised. If you see a big line up for a certain street vendor- join it. Especially if the lineup is mostly locals. It’s pretty much a guarantee that whatever is being served is fresh, safe, and tasty. What more can you ask for?

2) Only Eat What is Made in Front of You

There are generally two types of food stalls; the ones where the food is already prepared and waiting for be scooped into your plate, or the ones where it is cooked right in front of you. Always choose what is cooked right in front of you. That way you know it’s fresh and therefore less likely to be contaminated and full of bacteria, especially in hot and humid destinations.

street food- bahn mi

3) Eat During Normal Meal Times

 It might be busier, and lineups might have longer wait times, but having your meals during the normal eating times of whatever country you are in is an easy way to help avoid getting sick. These are the times that the food is the freshest; it’s usually just brought in and hasn’t been sitting in the heat or out in the open for hours. Plus, you usually have more options available and aren’t stuck with leftovers, which is always a win.

4) Think Before You Order

 Sometimes the best thing is just to use your brain. Would you still eat mayonnaise that you forgot in the car during a hot day for a few hours? No. So you probably shouldn’t ask for it on your sandwich when you see that the bottle just sits in the sun all day. Some other basic rules to stick by are to be careful with ice cubes for fruit shakes (rule of thumb is the machine made ones with the holes through the middle are usually safe), and avoid fruit and vegetables that need to be washed, because usually it’s done with tap water. This includes at restaurants, so as good as a caesar salad sounds after not having one for three months, just say no. And yes, that’s me speaking from experience.

fruit shake

5) When in Doubt, Drink a Coke

This is my number one secret tip, something that was passed onto my by a fellow traveller in Thailand and I have live off ever since. So how does it work? Well for the exact same reasons that everyone tells you to avoid it. Think about all those horror stories you heard about Coke being able to clean your toilet. If it can clean a toilet, it can probably kill any nasty germs or bugs in the food, right? Plus, you can get a bottle or can pretty much everywhere. So if you are eating something you aren’t too sure about, get a Coke with it. Personally, I don’t even really like the stuff, but if it means avoiding crippling stomach cramps and other awful side effects, I’ll drink it no problem. And based on the fact that I ate street food constantly (including some sketchy things, especially from the vendors in Laos) for 14 weeks without getting sick from it, I’d say this trick works.

What if you do get sick?

No matter how cautious you are, you can still get sick. So what happens if you do? The main thing is to stay hydrated, especially in warmer climates. Water is your best friend above all else. If you can eat, small portions of white rice, bread, and bananas are best.

When it comes to medication, the best bet is to let it run its course first. Unless you have a long bus or plane ride ahead of you, try to avoid medications like immodium right away. If after a day you are still ill, start taking medications. If you are still really suffering after a couple of days it might be something more serious, at this point you should take any prescribed medications your doctor sent with you (for this exact reason) or visit a local pharmacy or doctor. They are familiar with food poisoning and will have medications to help you. For more tips on how to combat travel tummy troubles check out this post.

Do you have any safe street food tips to share? Would love to hear them in the comments below!

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tips for eating street food

41 Comments

  1. AlicevstheWorld on January 17, 2017 at 4:24 pm

    I’m addicted to streetfood so this is one guide I really needed! I never knew about the coke trick. At least it’s a good excuse to drink more cola :)!

  2. stephanie on January 17, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    Great article and great tips.
    I always try to eat where the locals eat and try to drink a coke at least once a day too!!
    But I think getting sick it is quite normal though…it is a part of travelling…as long as you dont have to go to the hospital.
    x

    • Hannah Logan on January 17, 2017 at 9:21 pm

      I think stomach problems can be normal, adjusting to new food and such. But being confined to your bed/toilet for a few days (which is what happened to me post salad) is not. And it was awful haha

  3. Shanti on January 17, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    This is so cool….& helpful for others who have sensitive bellies !!! I grew up in the north east Indian state of Manipur & we are so used to all kinds of eating street foods in Mumbai or Delhi or even my own home town Imphal…I guess we ‘re much more hardened than others…lol!!! Keep up your good writing…We love it !!

    • Hannah Logan on January 18, 2017 at 12:08 am

      I’m jealous of your hardened belly! As a traveller a weak stomach is THE WORST!

  4. Itinera magica on January 18, 2017 at 1:45 pm

    I admire you. I am too much of a chicken and fear street food. But your tips are sensible!

    • Hannah Logan on January 18, 2017 at 2:52 pm

      Haha you should brave it someday, it’s so good!

  5. Anisa on January 18, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    I really don’t eat much street food because I am always worried about getting sick. I had not heard the coke trick. That sounds like it really should work, will have to try it next time.

  6. Meg on January 18, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    I always eat on the street. Such a great experience – in fact, the few times I’ve been sick abroad was from eating in touristy restaurants. Oh and one bad experience that left me hospitalized from eating at a truck stop in Mongolia but that’s a story for another time haha. I’ve never tried the coke thing – soda makes me really sick – but I do use the beer trick. Same concept but drink a beer. My doctor recently told me that one Pepto a day can also help. Thanks for sharing these tips!

    • Hannah Logan on January 18, 2017 at 3:09 pm

      Oooh I like that beer could work too… although not necessarily as easily available in the streets.

  7. Hra on January 18, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    Great tips!! i don’t eat street food because when i was in Thailand i was seek, its a truly bad experience!! But for now on i follow your advice with coke 🙂

    • Hannah Logan on January 18, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      Getting sick is awful 🙁 but funnily enough it was the restaurant food, not street food, that made me ill.

  8. Ricarda Christina Hollweg on January 18, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    I love tasty street food but have mixed experiences with it. Everyone should read this blog post before trying it. Great travel advice.

    • Hannah Logan on January 18, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      haha it can be super intimidating but I think I figured it out 😀

  9. Cali on January 18, 2017 at 4:16 pm

    Great tips! And I love your Coke trick. I never really thought about it, but you are so right!! I will be thinking of your post next time I eat street food (which is my absolute favorite despite paying the price time and time again)

    • Hannah Logan on January 18, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      haha try that coke and let me know! Seriously worked for me

  10. Joanna on January 18, 2017 at 5:32 pm

    These are great tips. I got sick for a bit in the Dominican Republic (on the resort) and opted for bread because I was so scared of getting sick again. Never thought to drink coke. I usually opt for ginger ale.

    • Hannah Logan on January 18, 2017 at 11:03 pm

      I know ginger ale is normally good for upset stomachs but not sure if its ‘cleaning’ enough (Lol does that even make sense) to work like coke.

  11. Danielle on January 18, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    I haven’t ever had this type of experience before, but will be heading to Morocco this year where the souks will be full of street food so this is super handy! I never even thought about not eating fruits and veggies that have to be washed before.

    • Hannah Logan on January 18, 2017 at 11:02 pm

      DRINK THE COKE! haha. Jokes (and cokes) aside, Morocco looks amazing- enjoy!

  12. Gone with a whim on January 19, 2017 at 1:07 pm

    Great guide and very useful too, didn’t know the Coke tip before heh. 🙂

    I love checking out street food when I visit a new city/country 🙂 I always load on pro-biotics and coconut water if you can get yours hand on it. (natural yogurt or over-the-counter meds too) really help fight germs etc. Highly recommend.

    Safe travels xx

  13. Naomi on January 21, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    The coke thing is always a good tip! It is crazy what it can do and it scares me to think it is so effective but it is! Great tips! Let’s hope to stay healthy when traveling!

    • Hannah Logan on January 21, 2017 at 7:22 pm

      haha it is a bit scary but I’ll take it over really bad illness haha.

  14. Alex on January 21, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    A part of my soul always dies when someone tells me they avoid street food for fear of getting sick. It’s the best part of SE Asia! (… in my humble opinion, anyway)

    Your tips are solid, and curious about the Coke tip—I’ve heard that before, too, and it makes sense given how toxic Coke is… On that line of thought, something locals told me in several countries I recently traveled through is to eat a raw onion in each new town or place you visit. They claim it helps your belly to acclimate to the dirt and grime of each place. Not a clue how or why that would work, but I’ve been eating raw onions day in and day out, and aside from some foul breath I haven’t had any issues in weeks 🙂

    • Hannah Logan on January 21, 2017 at 7:21 pm

      Raw onion?! Kinda strange. Would be interesting to try but at the same time I don’t want to smell like an onion. haha

  15. The Curious Creature on January 21, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    Love this! I eat sooo much street food when I travel. It’s the best way to get a good grasp of the cuisine and meet locals. Your #2 point is bang on (if possible).

  16. Kassie on January 22, 2017 at 2:43 pm

    These are such good tips! I got hit with food poisoning during my first month in Asia and it was brutal. Managed to make it through the rest of the year without any incidents though!

    My secret weapon is those activated charcoal tablets they sell in 7-11! If you feel like I ate something that might have been a little off, I just downed one of those to ward off anything bad. You just can’t take it all the time since it stops your body from absorbing any nutrients from your food.

    • Hannah Logan on January 22, 2017 at 3:28 pm

      I’ve heard about those from other ideas, definitely good to have on hand in case!

  17. J. Ricci on January 23, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Just read your article, and love your tips. I’m sitting in Singapore, ready to head home from a week mostly spent in Penang, Malaysia. We ate street food every day for the last 12 days. Last year, I picked up a nasty bacterial bug (campylobacter), found mostly in contaminated chicken, but is also found in produce and water. Took me about a month to feel totally better. I still love street food, but I’ll never travel again without Imodium AD and a “just in case” bottle of Cipro!

    • Hannah Logan on January 23, 2017 at 1:43 pm

      Yes, I think it’s a really smart idea to have those backup medications just in case! I was grateful for mine when I got sick- the last thing I wanted to do was try to find a pharmacy in the state I was in.

  18. […] A couple of days later, while walking through the streets of Kowloon, I stumbled across a massive line of locals coming from a small alley. Curious as to what was going on I stopped to investigate. The lineup started in front of a small food vendor, hidden out of site off the main road. I glanced at the signs, noticing they really only offered two things: pan fried buns and soup. As I scanned through the menu I noticed something else; a newspaper clipping. I was too far away to read the entire article but close enough for me to notice the word ‘Michelin’ in the title. It was more than enough to convince me to join the queue, especially given my love for street food. […]

  19. Carolyn Smurthwaite on March 13, 2017 at 9:48 pm

    Finally! I could not agree more with this article. It is much needed since you constantly see “try street food” as advice for budget travel. I find it is just as easy to get sick at a fine dining restaurant if you’re not careful.

    Interesting about the Coca Cola, where did you hear this from?

    • Hannah Logan on March 14, 2017 at 12:19 am

      A fellow backpacker! Decided to give it a shot- genius. haha.

  20. […] LOVE food, but I also have the world’s most sensitive stomach that cannot handle anything spicy. I’ve figured out some awesome tips along the way to avoid traveller’s tummy, but it still sucks. However, not enough for me to stop travelling and trying local […]

  21. Donna Smith on September 29, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    I’ve heard about taking a pepto bismal tablet everyday too. I have also taken 1/2 tab before a questionable meal before. Just let it disolve in your mouth before you eat. It is supposed to coat the stomach. May or may not work but I haven’t gotten sick. Love the Coca Cola idea!

    • Hannah Logan on September 29, 2017 at 8:02 pm

      I’ve heard that one too! Handy trick as many travellers carry them with them already.

  22. […] amount of my favourite stomach bug conquering cure (coke) could fix what my brother and I had to deal with on our nearly 18-hour trip back to Canada. […]

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