How to Eat Street Food (for unadventurous eaters)

Last Updated on July 5, 2013 by Christine Kaaloa

If this video isn’t showing, you can watch the video tip here: How to Eat Street Food (for the unadventurous eater)

Have you ever wished you could be adventurous enough to try street food in a foreign country, but unfortunately, the foreign foods you saw intimidated you?

When I don’t know much about a country’s food culture and I don’t recognize their street food options, I get to feeling that way. Intimidated.
Faint-hearted,  I’m standing outside a colorful and seductive adventure, which I want to try, but don’t know how to approach.


Is street food a way to experience cultural authenticity?

Some argue… Yes.

Street food is one way to experience cultural authenticity, because it appeals to local budgets, palettes and lifestyles.  It’s considered poor man’s food, but in many countries, you’ll find it the thoroughfare kitchen of the working class population.

street food in India, curbside eating in India
Curbside street food culture in India

Street foods abroad can vary from staple local dishes to hardcore local favorites, that you won’t find sold in your average touristy  restaurant or cafes. I’ve seen insects, rodents and mystery meat, either resembling a fear factor animal (check out scary street foods, which have made me a cautious eater) or being so ambiguous, you’d begin to wonder. The  flavor is also prepared the way local tongues like and handle them. One vegetable dish I tried in a local Laotian literally redefined “spicy” for me.  After suffering a total of fifteen minutes of uncomfortable teary-eyed heat, wads of tissue and scorched tongue, I headed for the nearest convenience store to buy a snack alternative.

Eating street food raises the barre of food challenges.

While I may not have a courage stomach for a country’s flavors, I still want to experience a part of it’s lifestyle. Maybe I’d like to eat with my hands like Indians do or take my dinner on a plastic stool at a communal sidewalk table that summons Hanoi’s mainstream nightlife. It’s not often that my meals arrive curbside to me in a resourcefully-crafted banana leaf bowl or that my utensils come served to me in a bowl of lukewarm water (because there’s no dishwasher or soap)!

vietnamese street food
(Above) Sidewalk cafes are big in Vietnam, as street activities are roadside entertainment to locals, who lounge and watch motorbikes go by. At some cafes, I noticed chairs lined up facing the road as if it were a giant television.Street food stalls in Southeast Asia, Street food in Asia (Above) These types of street stalls with plastic tables and chairs are common throughout Southeast Asia. This one is in Myanmar/Burma.
street foods in Asia, street food in Myanmar, Burmese street foodAbove is a street food stall in Yangon, where you can BBQ your own meat skewers. At the end of your meal, the stall owner counts your skewer sticks and tallies your total. It looked fun but unfortunately, I don’t eat meat and some of it looked mysterious.

Solo travel & how can you eat street food abroad if you’re an unadventurous eater?

Not everyone is an adventurous eater, when they’re abroad.

One can’t go stuffing anything into my mouth, without first knowing a bit of how it’s prepared or whether it’s safe for the stomach… or taste buds.  I’ve already gotten sick in India and a had a bad run-in with silkworm larvae –aka bundagi or  분다기— which cost half a year of food distrust with Korea!

Thoughtless actions in travel can have have hard consequences; you have to decide if it’s worth the cost.

Also, for a female solo traveler, try things outside of my comfort zone is all self-motivation.  I don’t have a partner to goad me on if something  squirts “icky” or to order a spattering of dishes to sample and share. If I want to experience more “adventurous” aspects of travel, I have to find ways to unlock my own fear.

That can be a tough trick and one, which I try to find  doable loopholes for.

*  Watch my travel survival tip video How to Eat Street Food (for the unadventurous eater).*

Being an unadventurous eater doesn’t necessarily mean you’re just plain unadventurous. Sometimes, it simply means you’re being thoughtful and concerned about your limitations.

Experiencing food isn’t every traveler’s “thing”, just as visiting churches or museums non-stop may not be a game plan preference for you.

Bangkok street food, street food in Asia
My favorite street food culture is in Thailand. Food is good, cooked fresh in front of you and generally has some options which my diet can handle. Granted, a lot of it is deep-fried though.

For me, sampling the flavor of a culture is really about interacting with the community,  dining with a local crowd, learning about cultural lifestyles and enjoying cultural ambience. In order to taste this ‘flavor’ I have to choose a food my diet can accept.

panjun, korean pancakes, 파준
Korean pancakes (aka pajun or 파준) at an outdoor festival. Some have seafood, kimchi, etc… this only has veggies. I’ve been told there’s no egg in the batter, but I’ve seen recipes that call for one. Still, it’s one of the easiest snack/dishes for foreigners to enjoy.

Experiencing street food culture can be either, a culture shock horror show or it can be a fun and insightful bridge to experiencing a country’s authentic culture.  Usually, it’s all of the above and that makes for a rewarding experience.

Additional tips for eating street food:

•  Go to places where the food is cooked before your eyes or on the spot. Generally, piping hot meals are a good sign.
•  Never eat anything that’s been laying out in the sun for hours.
•  Avoid places with lots of flies.

Depending on country, you may need to be extra cautious about the water…  

•  Rule of thumb there is make sure the water’s been “boiled”.
•  Fruits and vegetables: Avoid leaf salads and cut fruits. Buy fruits you can peel and cooked salads.
•  In restaurants, avoid water with ice cubes.


How do you feel about trying street food? Are you an adventurous eater or a lover of ambience? Any survival tips for those who may be reluctant about experiencing street food?

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