You’ll find the world’s most authentic cuisine in streets. It won’t be in five-star restaurants or four-course meals that drain your wallet and screw up the flavors of the country to appease your delicate Western taste buds. Denying street food means forfeiting an essential element of international travel. You’ll lose out on noticing the differences of a Thai curry in the north versus the south. You won’t take part in the communal slurping of Pho in the streets of Saigon. You’ll reject the centuries old tradition of chomping down on some merguez sausage in the Central Square of Marrakesh. And that’s a damn shame. Certainly there are concerns, but none that can’t be satisfactorily conquered.
The Realities of “Delhi Belly”
Travelers often get queasy at the thought of eating at the sizzling street stalls. And to some extent, it’s an understandable concern. The stories of people having to spend their vacations in their hotel bathroom because of ingesting diseased fowl or cold prawn curry are many indeed. Here’s the thing: Nobody wants to get sick. Not you and not the people of the place you’re visiting. It’s a simple measure of choosing wisely. The advice here is to go with the crowds. The locals know where the best grub is, so join the flock. If you’re still unsure, watch the cooks prepare your food rather than reluctantly giving in to eating the stuff that looks like it’s been sitting out for a long time. Anything freshly and thoroughly cooked all but guarantees safety. And just in case, pack a bottle of Pepto-Bismol if the stomach bug does burrow down in your guts.
The Glory of Cost
In Bangkok you can scarf down two or three courses for $3 or less. In Tel Aviv, for about $3.50 you receive a half-dozen falafel balls wrapped in pita bread. Down in Venezuela, for around $1 you can purchase an enormous hot dog with more condiments than you could possibly imagine (including chips, pickles, fries and a whole host of other goodies). Not to say the hot dog is necessarily the most culturally honest cuisine you can purchase, but it’s sure as hell is cheap. In Peru, purchase the “menu,” which is a set meal that’ll run anywhere from $1 to $4 depending on your location. The point here is that if you stick to street food for the majority of your daily nutritional intake, the savings are such that you could even extend your trip by several weeks to make up for what you would spend at high-end restaurants.
When you can eat until you’re stuffed and still have plenty of extra cash for some post-dinner drinks at a DaLat outdoor Karaoke joint with Vietnamese friends made over barbecued clams and communal charades, you know you’ve found street-food heaven.
By Bryan Schatz