Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

Buying From Roadside Vendors


Recommended Posts

I had a visiting relative, who will remain nameless, accompany me on a rural drive to visit the various farmers’ markets and roadside vendors. My guest freely admits to being a borderline hypochondriac and let me tell you, her kitchen is well kept and immaculate from the chemicals and elbow grease.

Here’s my issue: she rejected a bunch of rhubarb because it wasn’t totally free of “organic growing medium”, but two short kilometers later, she bought a pork pie from a complete stranger. Is that not odd?

What are your rules?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I recall some information to the effect that raw vegetables and fruits are generally riskier than cooked meat. So that particular judgment may not be crazy.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

For raw ingredients, I have virtually no rules. If it looks good and other people are buying it, I go for it. Most things that come out of the ground should look like they need a wash before consumption.

For cooked things:

1) It must be during an active food consumption time of day, or the stall must have a queue/steady stream of customers.

2) I always request a "fresh" item - nothing that has been pre-made and waiting. Ideally I wait until the vendor is out completely and has to make a fresh batch. Roadside food should necessarily NOT be fast food.

3) I watch to see what other people are paying and have correct change ready.

4) I only buy what other people are buying. If it's a steamed bun vendor who also happens to have a few ears of corn? Never buy the corn. Go to a corn vendor if you want corn.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I guess I am a "to heck with it" kind of person. If they made it, or grew it, and are selling it, I give it a shot. In Mexico I buy the roadside olives and tamales and in any place I eat the street food. As for produce- honestly are you necessarily going to get an honest answer from a seller? I do wonder if people who shun the roadside may suffer the effects of anything more because they are not sensitized to it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I recall some information to the effect that raw vegetables and fruits are generally riskier than cooked meat. So that particular judgment may not be crazy.

That's true when vacationing in the Caribbean, in my experience. If the vendor has repeat buyers, that's a good sign.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

Link to comment
Share on other sites

We have always bought roadside pastries in the Southwest and Mexico. The best ever churros were made in an old cement mixer on the path to the Bufadora in Baja Mexico filled with boiling oil tended by an old man who had seen cleaner days. Probably the mixer and oil had also.

Although I must admit to getting food poisoning once from some chicherones. In the bottom of the bag I subsequently discovered dead flies.

Darienne

 

learn, learn, learn...

 

Life in the Meadows and Rivers

Cheers & Chocolates

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I pass an old guy selling smoked fish almost everyday -- I've never stopped. Somebody must buy his stuff since he's been setting up there for at least five years. I'm not sure what it is that puts me off, the rusty van and the "hadock" sign don't help.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I recall some information to the effect that raw vegetables and fruits are generally riskier than cooked meat. So that particular judgment may not be crazy.

But, who is gonna eat rhubarb raw? (Well, I did as a kid, but not recently!)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have been exploring street vendors in Houston for several months, now. I seldom stop at a place the first time I see it unless it's been recommended to me. I like to pass by several times on different occasions to see what kind of business it does. I also like to try to look it up on line to see if anyone else has tried it or if they're on Facebook or Twitter.

Staying busy itself is not necessarily a good sign, though. One very busy truck (I tried to stop a couple of times but there was no place to park) was finally reported on by a couple of bloggers including Robb Walsh, recently of the Houston Press, and turned out to be quite mediocre - it had the benefit of a great location and no competition.

I'm not eating at roadside vendors just because I'm hungry, I'm also looking to experience new tastes so I like to get a good look at the menu to see if there's anything unusual available. Here in Houston in some neighborhoods I can find a taqueria or taco truck every 100' or so; I want to find something other than the usual suspects as far as taco fillings, for instance.

I'll try most anything once but if a vendor doesn't fix things fresh, has them ready-to-eat, I likely won't be back. One big disappointment was a Venezuelan vendor that had a wide variety of empanadas but they were pre-made and kept warm in a display case. I did learn that by studying the case I could order one of the varieties that was sold out and get a fresh made one. Another big disappointment is samosas at Indo/Pak places, nearly always cooked in advance and kept warm but sometimes served at near room temp.

Of course I pay attention to the look of the truck itself and try to get a good look inside. A vendor whose vehicle isn't well maintained on the outside likely won't see my face again unless the food is outstanding and if the interior looks like a slop pit I won't chance it again though I've never yet walked away just at the sight of a place.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 9 months later...

I am fearless in this regard. Unless the food smells bad or looks unappetizing, I usually will go for it. I've even been known to ignore bad ratings (partially because I know ratings don't really tell an accurate story sometimes) if the food good. I'm of the opinion that the people that are overly worried about such things are the ones that get sick. My body can handle fighting off a few germs or bacteria here and there because I let it get exposed occasionally. I've never been sick from anything I ate.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'll eat anything from roadside, dockside and beachside stands. I've been doing it for years and years and have never once been sick.

Caveats:

1) I won't buy if I notice the proprietor touching money and then food. Same goes for touching hair, scratching, etc.

2) The cart/shack/etc. can be old and run down, but it must be clean.

3) I smell all fish and seafood prior to purchase. I also keep an eye on how food is stored. If the veg is on the bottom shelf, beneath the raw chicken, I pass.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I will pretty much buy anything that looks good, and eat any street food. Once on the way back to the airport from visiting a client way down in Lafayette, LA, I stopped at a truck parked on the road and bought a ton of fresh crawfish, shrimp, alligator, and rattlesnake, took it straightt onto the plane, and had a big party with it--etoufees, creoles, etc. That was back in the 80s. Probably the riskiest thing I've bought, but didn't think anything of it at the time. Delicious.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

×
×
  • Create New...