Street food warning signs

Stuart is travelling to China and wonders whether he should risk eating the street food.


Q. Stuart

My wife and I are travelling to China in August. I have heard both good and bad things about some of the street food that is available in Asia. Is there any way to tell the good from the bad?

A. I may be the worst person to answer this question as I have always been known among my travelling companions for having a cast-iron stomach. That said, my strong stomach means that I have always tried street food wherever I go, including in China, where I have eaten everything from snake to all manner of bugs cooked and served on sticks.

There are some things to look out for, regardless of your constitution. The most important thing to know is that hot foods must be kept hot and cold foods must be kept cold.

If your street food vendor doesn’t have a fridge or a cooling apparatus to keep cold foods cold, they have probably dropped outside the safe eating temperature and could be a fertile ground for bad bacteria to fester.

The same goes if you see a big pot of something being heated over a tiny flame. This is probably not being maintained at a healthy temperature and should be avoided.

Another really good thing to keep an eye on is the people cooking the food. If they are wearing gloves you can feel a lot more comfortable than those not wearing gloves. Even if they don’t wear gloves if you see them washing their hands regularly that can be a better sign than a vendor that has no access to clean water at his or her stall.

One of the great things about buying street food is watching the way that it is cooked. If you are able to get a clear view of the kitchen, this can also tell you a lot about the relative safety of the food preparation.

For what it’s worth I wouldn’t recommend the snake or the insects in China. Not for any health reasons, but they did taste just about as bad as you would expect. There are, however, some great options for getting duck off street vendors, which you may find a lot more scrumptious.

Have you ever had a bad experience with street food when you travelled? What happened?

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