Don’t Be Afraid to Eat the Local Food
When you’re in your home town, probably some of the best times you’ve had involved going out with your friends to restaurants that specialize in exotic cuisine.
- the Peruvian restaurant where you discovered that raw fish in the form of ceviche was delicious?
- the Argentine restaurant where you ate the best yucca drenched in mozzarella cheese?
- the Korean restaurant where you understood why Koreans love kimchee so much?
Of course, you weren’t too worried about trying something new. These restaurants were in your home town and had to abide by U.S. regulations. You weren’t worried that you’d find a fried caterpillar inside your mixed vegetables!
Do You Have That Confidence When You’re Overseas?
When you get off the plane in Vietnam, you’re stepping outside your comfort zone in several ways. One of those ways is choosing what to eat.
Sure, you could stick with McDonald’s and other chains from the U.S. They’re in just about every country these days. But a big part of the travel adventure is eating the local specialties.
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – James A. Michener
Listen to Michener. He’s got the right idea. If you’re going to hit the road, be prepared for a wild ride. That doesn’t mean that you should try deep fried scorpions at one of the street stalls in Beijing.
But then again, why not? They’re not expensive. Buy one and take a tiny bite. Be sure that someone takes a photo of you when you take that little bite. What a story you’ll have when you go home and brag about how brave you were.
What About Eating Food from Street Vendors?
If you’re long-term traveling on a budget, you won’t be splurging too often at restaurants in 5-star hotels. Most of the time, you’ll be looking for small restaurants with local customers rather than tourists.
As you walk around, you’ll see lots of locals sitting on little benches near a street vendor and eating noodles or fried rice or something else that’s quick to prepare. Your first thought might be that you wouldn’t dare eat food from a street vendor.
But then you notice how much a local person pays for that bowl of noodles that looks so delicious. And you think how much less money you’d spend on food if you ate from a street cart – at least once in a while.
Should you do it?
You know your digestive system better than anyone else. If you tend to get an upset tummy easily, then maybe you shouldn’t. But you could be missing out on some really great tastes. And you’ll miss out on a big part of the local culture.
If you’re traveling in the EU, don’t even think twice. Street vendors in the EU have to adhere to rigorous health regulations.
If you’re wondering about street food, then it’s likely you’re in a developing country. In that case, you should choose wisely.
If you decide that you’re going to give eating street food a try –
- Follow locals, but look for a mix of ages and clientele. In other words, don’t choose a place that has a long line of teeny boppers.
- Take a quick look to see that surfaces are clean and closed containers are used when appropriate.
- Remember which vendors had long lines the previous day, and get there before meal time.
- Strike up a conversation with someone who’s waiting in line and ask their advice.
- If there’s no menu in English and you’re not yet familiar with the local language, just point at what someone else is having.
So, don’t pass up the chicken jerk in Jamaica or the satay in Southeast Asia. You might find yourself becoming a frequent customer at your favorite street cart.