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stellabella

Street Food

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Jinmyo and Cabrales brought up the subject of eating street food on the Cook at home or eat in a restaurant? thread.

I'm curious, since so many eGulletarians travel:

Do you eat street food?

Can you truly experience local cuisine if you don't eat street food?

Are there basic safety guidelines you follow?

I want to hear some responses amd then I will share my own experiences.  I am really torn on this one.  I love food and street food often looks more appealing than anything else, but the risks can be great.  Are they worth it?  Any "scarred but smarter" stories?

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"Do you eat street food?"

Yes.

"Can you truly experience local cuisine if you don't eat street food?"

Depends where you are. In France, sure. In Southeast Asia, of course not. In New York City, I think you lose very little by skipping street food, though there is the occasional nice street food item out there. I don't know of anyplace else in America where street food (if by this you mean food from street vendors as opposed to those housed permanently someplace) would be a critical experience.

"Are there basic safety guidelines you follow?"

I am completely reckless in this regard and will eat street food from any busy vendor so long as there are no obvious defects. I've only ever had one very bad stomach experience, in Egypt, and I have no idea whether or not that can be attributed to any particular piece of food. Those who were very careful about what they ate seemed to be having the same problems I was, so who knows?

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Street food can be a fantastic experience. In Sydney there is a regular hawker market in a Park in North Sydney, and it is great. Once a year  a Sydney Newspaper persuades some of the good Asian restaurants to participate in a hawker market 3 nights a week for 4 weeks; and it's a different perspective on their cooking.

But the best Street food I have had is Penang, at gurney drive; those satay sticks are bloody great. We did have someone with local knowledge there which helped. When we were in KL we did ok without local knowledge.

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I have become more comfortable with street food since receiving my vaccinations for Hep A and B.  The cooking and serving of food can be vehicles for transmitting this and other diseases.  I have had concerns not only about the quality and method of preparation of street food, but also about the care with which bowls and utensils were being cleansed.  Due to mad cow considerations, I no longer eat beef products (or sausage products that might contain beef components) from street vendors.

I do eat street food, including quasi-street food like small stall-type, roadside restaurants in Singapore. I might avoid oysters and mussels, but usually find it impossible to resist crab. I like a few of the falafel carts in NYC -- little onions added and a white sauce.  Or the sausage vendors, when the sausages look a bit burnt and are sizzling. I always buy roasted chestnuts in Paris during the wintertime, although there one gets the protection of large parts of the shell.

Back to health considerations.  In some Asian cuisines such as Chinese cuisine, diners utilize their own chopsticks throughout even non-street meals to pick up food from non-plated dishes. Even after my vaccinations, I try to minimize the potentially unsanitary aspects of this by: (1) asking for extra chopsticks and serving spoons in advance of the receipt of dishes, (2) reaching for food from each dish early on and not obtaining second helpings even when a food item is tasty, and (3) asking the dining room team member to serve individual diners their helpings whenever possible. (No connotations with respect to the NJ dinner, though :wink: )  I also try not to drink from other people's glasses, although that rules tends to bend according to the wine available.

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I too eat anything which looks appetizing, with no precautions.  On second thoughts, I eat some pretty disgusting-looking stuff too.  My question: is there a reason to be more concerned about street food hygiene than restaurant hygiene?  I've been made thoroughly sick by many restaurants.  Can't off-hand think of any bad reactions to street food (I'm probably forgetting some).

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I think that street food in NYC has been pretty limited for years. Hot dog, shish kebab, a few falafel venders have pretty much dominated the landscape. But the mexican taco cart venders have revitalized the street food scene. There are a number of good carts or trucks, usually with a few old ladies nearby offering fresh and hot tamales to choose from. Aside from the taco truck that resides in the evenings on 96th west of Broadway, there is the taco cart and the lady who operates it who is so near and dear to my heart on E97th street, just west of Second Avenue. She can make you an amazing gordita on a few minutes notice. And nowhere is there a better display of Mexican street venders than outside the Spanish speaking RC Church on 14th Street betwen 7th and 8th Avenues. Between 11:30am and 3:00 there's a whole Mexican street fair going on.

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In KL, one of the good ways to choose a stall vendor is to pick the ones that give you a bowl of freshly boiled water to wash your chopsticks/ plates etc. Although it didn't really bother me either way.

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As summer approaches, CP comes alive during the weekend with various sounds and smells.  

You'll find really interesting foods around the bandshell, and above the great lawn. Another

great time to find street food is the Ninth Ave Food Festival in May. As waves of new immigrant groups take to vending carts, they add one or two new dishes on the menu...... Notice now the availability of jamaican beef patties from an Egyptian vendor on 57th or halal food near  JJay on 58th & 10th

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the only concern i had ever heard about eating from a cart in the states [or other "developed nation"] was that these vendors spend hours in the streets away from sinks where they can routinely wash their hands--hence cabrales concern about heps a & b.

i used to eat in market stalls in mexico.  the food almost always gave me heartburn, which i considered a small price to pay.  during our honeymoon in guatemala, my hub and i contracted GIARDIA.  the irony was that we got it at the home of our hosts, some american ex-pats, who bragged about the quality of their state-of-the-art water filter.  we know we got it there because my cousin, staying there while adopting a child, got it, as did her daughter.  to this day my little cousin still has a very sensitive intestinal tract.  i will never be the same, either.  i had to do two rounds on flagyl and cipro to knock it out.  flagyl does terrible things to the intestinal tract and i pray to god i never have to take it again.

i also got sick once in mexico city-- a fluke--my husband and i ate off the same plate all day and as soon as we got back to our room i had the most violent -- but mercifully, briefest --intestinal disorder of my life.  since then i have become cautious to the point of being paranoid.  i often feel i am missing out.  but then i think of what the consequences can be.  but then i also consider that, based on my track record, i'm more likely to get sick from a house/restaurant kitchen than from a street stall.

funny, steven, about your egypt experience.  i went to egypt with girlfreinds back in the day.  i had never been out of the states before.  we ate everything put in front of us and brushed our teeth with tap water.  one of my girlfriends got violently ill for about two days.  i was fine.  when i got home, my stomach was "off" and stayed that way for about a month, and then, suddenly, i was fine.  but looking back i think that there may have been a series of experiences that have weakened my stomach--i am much more sensitive to foods than most people i know.  the whole "iron stomach" thing is true--my hub has one--i don't.

when we go to ecuador we take doxycycline as an anti-malarial and it seems to have a prophylactic effect--i have never had so much as a sour stomach--even after eating guinea pig.  i also now always travel with cipro and flagyl, just in case.

but mexico is still one of my favorite places in the world.   i long to stand in a market and drink a glass of horchata and eat a cup of sliced watermelon and papaya with chili powder--but i dare not.  i wish there were some 100% guaranteed effective safeguard against intestinal bugs. :confused:

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And nowhere is there a better display of Mexican street venders than outside the Spanish speaking RC Church on 14th Street betwen 7th and 8th Avenues. Between 11:30am and 3:00 there's a whole Mexican street fair going on.

Yep, that's where I get my tacos, from a little white van which parks up there on Saturdays (don't know if it's there in the week).  I recommend the tongue and also the stewed goat versions.  Nice fresh herbs.

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And I, Suvir Saran get sick from eating Knishes in NYC Streets.  And if I even try eating at the street fairs, I am a mess.  The street food of NYC and at first even the tap water did not agree with me.  My physicians realized that I was not immuned to the life within the water of this great city.. which it is claimed, has t he best water in the US.  I drank only bottled water for my first 6 years.  The few times I broke the rule, I would be sick and unable to eat for a day or two.

Well, that  takes me to the relevance of the topic, try and stay away from having stuff on the streets where vendors have touched  the cooked food with water, fresh fruit or veggies etc.  The fried and sauteed meats and vegetables and beans and lentils etc, will not kill you or make you sick.  They are just fine.

I have friends that travel writing about food, and one has been doing so for 30 years. Her favorite food overseas.. Street Food, have they fallen sick eating it, not enough times I guess to change their craving for street foods.  When they come to my home in NYC, they want Street foods to be a large part of my menu.  

Having steamed things I am told can be a problem, since the water contaminants are able to affect the food.  That is what I am told made my experiences with Knishes miserable.  

Well, last year, my partner ate salad in a small way side restaurant in Paris.  He got horribly sick and for that reason, could not enjoy his meal at Arpege.  

The risk of street foods exist everywhere.  The western belief of safety within the western hemisphere does not exist.  I have come back with bad bacteria and bugs from more trips within this hemispher than in the east.  But that does not mean one is safer than the other, all our bodies build immunity to the many bugs in the foods and water we are most exposed to.  And so, as we travel outside of that comfort zone, it is upto us to decide how much we want to shock our system.

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In addition, Suvir, many cases of traveler's diarrhea and other gastrointestinal ailments are completely unrelated to mocrobial activity. They're simply the result of eating unfamiliar foods, or of overindulging, or of a messed up sleeping schedule, or of any of a thousand little changes that happen to people's bodies when they travel and break their routines. Yet even though any physician will tell you that these phenomena explain the overwhelming majority of cases, the average person always blames it on water- or food-borne microorganisms.

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Or it is perfectly harmless microbes that the traveler just hasn't encountered before. I have had lots of sniffles etc since moving to the UK, most likely because I just haven't been exposed to a lot of the UK microflora.

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I have wondered about parasites (A Balic has mentioned this in another context), and things like stomach worms, where the effects of contamination might not be evident for some time.  Have members experienced problems of that sort, which would obviously be more difficult to directly trace to street food?

Another area of culinary hygiene where there is measurable room for improvement would be the little jars of condiment (e.g., chili, mustard) at certain restaurants, including many French restaurants in the provinces and certain Asian resaturants. The little spoon or spatula for scooping the condiment onto a diner's plate or bowl could touch partially eaten pieces of the diner's food.  Also, certain diners using chopsticks or knifes might dip those saliva-tainted utensils into the jar.

Furthermore, some diners pick up sugar not served in packets (never in packets at top French restaurants) with their fingers. I don't happen to use sugar, but that practice would not be happy to think about if I did.

Other little things I wonder about as being unhygenic, if practiced: (1) the recycling of bread in bread baskets or little mignardises, and (2) the use in the kitchen (e.g., in sauces) of partially used butter chunks at French restaurants.

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to add to steven's list of things besides bugs that can cause illness: dehydration, a common problem when traveler's aren't getting enough water--on top of exhaustion and the general overindulgence of being on holiday

i believe it is true that we all react differently to the organisms in our environment, and travel to any place far enough away from home can upset the balance--i got really sick in seattle, for example, and i attributed it to jet lag and  strange water.

on the other hand, one more word of caution:  a lot of travelers make the mistake of thinking that the locals are "used to" the water/microbes/etc. and that in time the traveler becomes used to them, too.  in fact, in many developing nations, local people, esp those in the most impoverished communities, live with low-grade chronic gastrointesinal disorders.  malnutrition is one of the leading causes of death amond young children, caused not only by a lack of food, but by chronic diarrhea.  just a thought.

it sounds like a lot of you have done a lot of traveling in asia, and with little trouble.  this is good to know as i am hopeful soon to visit an asian country.

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as ever arriving late to the thread...

I'd normally eat street food if I'm going to be in the country for a while - if you've only got a couple of days its not worth risking spending the remainder of your time on the toilet, but if you're there for a while and have had time to acclimitise to the bugs go right on.

Deep fried stuff also generally more sanitary cos of the temperature

A useful tip in asia, much like the boiled water thing, is to swill bowls out with hot tea if you're worried

ttfn

j

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"Is it safe?"

"Yes, it's safe. It's very safe."

"Is it safe?"

"No. It's not safe. It's very dangerous."

"Is it safe?"

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squidcook.jpg  squideat.jpg

Squid on a stick, on a mountain road in Japan. At the time it never occurred to me to worry about eating seafood so far from the coast along a winding road in the middle of nowhere. Tasty stuff and the mountain air may have contributed to my appetite. I think my fellow travelers were just happy I stopped because of the way I drive in the mountains although all were thankful I avoided running over the guy who passed me on a curve riding a motorcycle only to spin out as he pulled back in front of me.

More recently, we got hepatitis shots before going to Hong Kong although my doctor questioned my need. I suspect he just couldn't imagine anyone would eat anyplace but in a hotel restaurant. Nevertheless, we didn't eat much food on the street if only because we always seemed to have just come out of a restaurant when we saw some. There were some seafood meals, especially on a small island that might have justified the precaution anyway.

I'm still looking for those wonderful steamed and than griddled pork and cabbage buns that used to be sold on Canal Street. Did one guy supply all the vendors and go out of business? Street food in NY deteriorated by at leat 50% when those buns disappeared.

Some culltures don't have street food. People will cite all sorts of things like crepes in Paris, but France doesn't have much of a street food tradition, not counting my ability to scarf down some pretty fancy pastry on the run. Ice cream cones really don't count, I think.

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Cabrales, in NYC restaurants are not allowed by law, to serve or re-present any food that is removed from a table, unless it is recooked, or heated to a certain temperature. Yes butter removed from a table can be used for cooking. Bread and mignardises should not reappear once removed from a table. I've found that the very top level of restaurant can be absolutely nuts about following the strictest city regulations. I suspect it's partially because they have the most to lose from a bad inspection or a sick diner, but I think it's also in line with the rigorous discipline of the kitchen. At any rate, I don't mind that, although I also eat in some places whose kitchens I know I'd not want to see.

:wink:

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Steven you are very correct in sharing the affect of stress and all the other factors on ones physical well being.  More often than not, it is simply a matter of  nerves.

I am nervous about eating condiments in restaurants where they have bottles left out for the duration of the service.  I have no desire to touch those containers.  For the same reasons as sited above.

And after having seen kitchens fancy and very humble, I am never happy looking at kitchens.  Even some of the nicest ones, have some very scary stuff happening.  It is so much better to be able to enjoy ones meal without having seen every detail that goes into its preparation.  What you have not seen cannot hurt is my attitude.

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I've had street food in Singapore, and Indonesia without suffering any after effects.....I had to take some Po Chai pills after I ate in Shanghai, however....but nothing major to report.

No food Problems to report in London...(maybe I was lucky. :wink: )

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