Navigating Street Food in South East Asia

Contributor Editor: Claire Botsy

The one meal I resorted to eating in a respectable looking establishment was the most regrettable meal I had while staying in Bangkok.

The only reason why I decided to divert away from my usual wanderings along the streets was because it was a Monday, the one day of the week where you will find yourself on the sidewalk with space to walk because none of the dozens of street vendors are selling their delectable eats. At this so-called ‘respectable establishment’ the bottom of every dumpling was torn off by the paper or tray and the fillings were poor excuses for what I know to be of good quality; despite the air conditioning, proper seating, and attentive staff it fell abominably short of my standards set by the street stalls.

After this unfortunate, yet justifying, experience I never wavered from street food again. From the adorable mini doughnuts that are perfectly dunkable in coffee to the countless and nameless savouries, there is never something you haven’t tried or not worth trying.

While there are some cautions about eating street food that should be heeded, for the most part it is fairly safe to indulge in streetside feasting. We have not come this far as a human race by using hand sanitizer at every questionable turn of hygiene. The practice of washing pots in the street or using bare hands to serve food may seem completely unhygienic, however, one must remember that the locals eat this food daily, as do countless tourists. Getting sick from drinking the water is more probable, depending on where you are and how strong your stomach is.

If you want the best possible experience, take heed of a few points of advice. First, if the food has been deep fried, try to get it fresh, instead of what has been sitting there for an unknown amount of time. Skewers are always one of the best bets, they are fresh and hot and the easiest to eat right off the street. If you are worried about meat, opt for fish, the bowls of hot boiling fish are the safest as they are the freshest and any bacteria has been boiled off. The vendors have been doing this for years and possibly generations, so they are quite accurate in estimating how much to make meaning that food is rarely sitting there for more than is reasonable. Most importantly, don’t be picky, because some of the best tasting food looks horrendous. So be adventurous and try what you can’t pronounce, because it may be the best meal of your life.