& how not to get sick! One of my favourite things about travelling is trying all the different foods. Being on a backpackers budget, it’s definitely been all about the street food in SE Asia, so I thought I’d put together a little guide of our experiences with street food.
Obviously I haven’t tried street food over the whole of South East Asia (le sigh!) so what I’m sharing in this guide is just from my experiences and the places I have eaten it, which is Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in Thailand, Luang Prabang in Laos, Hanoi and Hoi An in Vietnam.
In Bangkok you’ll find random streets with a bunch of different street food vendors along them. There’s also street food at the markets. In Chiang Mai you’ll find the stalls all grouped together as part of the daily night markets, the best stalls are within the temple grounds. In Chiang Rai it’s all in the night bazaar with all the stalls around the edge of communal tables. In Laos there are different little street food stalls dotted along the main high street during the day, with one of the side alleys becoming absolutely packed full of street food during the evening. In Hanoi we didn’t find one main street food drag, it seemed to be dotted about the city. In Hoi An the main stalls were across the bridge over the river.
+ HOW MUCH?
Street food is cheap. Like seriously. Most meals we’ve had are around the £1 mark, which in my eyes is an absolute bargain. I don’t even think buying something from the supermarket to eat in your room would be as cheap. Compared to restaurant meals it’s way cheaper. Most of the time you can expect to pay around the same price as your meal for a drink, maybe a little more for a beer.
+ WHAT IS THERE?
In Bangkok it was all about the noodle soup. Duck noodle soup. Pork noodle soup. Chicken foot noodle soup. You name it, they’ll put it in a bowl of noodle soup. It’s yummy, filling and pretty healthy. Although after a week in Bangkok eating not much but noodle soup for dinner I did start to get a little tired of it. In Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai we found a lot more on offer, Pad Thai (always a winner!), fried noodles, fried rice and lots of barbecued meats. Chiang Mai was my favourite place for street food, I think I tried something new every night and some nights had tapas style dinners wandering around getting bits here and there from different stalls. Mango and sticky rice (the most awesome dessert known to man kind!) was also easy to come by here.
Luang Prabang was the home of the street food buffet where you can fill up a plate of food for 15,000 kip (£1) and they fry it up for you. It was predominantly vegetarian food, so handy for the vegetarians always complaining they can’t get a good variety of food! In general street food portion sizes are fairly modest, but with the buffet style it was easy for your eyes to be bigger than your belly and go a bit overboard, not always a positive if you’re eating buffet style for a whole week!
In Hanoi the only street food we had was a BBQ style which I saw a few of around the city. It cost us around £5 and you’re given a ton of meat, noodles and veg to cook up yourself on a little BBQ. It tastes amazing and is really fun to do, but have some wet wipes handy as it can get a little messy! In Hoi An the main street food on offer was sweet treats, different varieties of fried doughnuts and pancakes. Not too healthy and seriously addictive!
Most places also have stalls selling ready to eat fruit, perfect for a healthy dessert, especially if you’ve had a meat stick too many.
+ WON’T I GET SICK?!
I think street food has a bad rap for giving people food poisoning, especially in places like Asia where they might not have the same food hygiene standards as we do in the UK. *Touch wood* we have both been fine after 3 months of street food! But here’s some tips..
Make sure it’s hot // One of the main ways people get food poisoning is by eating food that’s not cooked properly or sat around being lukewarm for ages. As long as your food’s properly cooked through you should be fine, even if it’s had the odd fly crawling around on it -which is pretty common in Asia! So boiling hot noodle soups and fried / barbecued foods are pretty perfect. If the stall doesn’t look like it has somewhere to re-fry the noodles on offer just ask if it’s hot, and if it’s not avoid it.
Obviously fruit won’t be cooked, so just look out for fruit that’s either wrapped up or inside a counter. Some of the fruit stalls I saw were absolutely teeming with flies!
Keep it clean // Before we came away our nurse told us a common way of getting food poisoning abroad is not from the actual food but from the dirty cutlery / plates it’s served with. So if there’s disposable cutlery on offer (usually chopsticks in Asia) opt for that. There’s not much you can do about the plate once the food’s dished up, but you can give your cutlery a quick wipe before you use it. Also using a hand sanitiser before you eat, especially if it’s finger food.
Common sense // A lot of people say to avoid the ice and salads as they may be made with tap water which isn’t good for drinking here. The majority of places we’ve eaten have been fine, the vendors know that tap water here isn’t for drinking. But if you’re a little uncertain it’s always better to give it a miss.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to street food in SE Asia, I’ve certainly enjoyed doing my research for it!