One of the greatest joys of travelling is discovering the splendour of local street food. Food carts, food trucks, grannies with kitchen tables dragged to the side of the road…this is the stuff culinary dreams are made of. But choosing the wrong street eats can be a grave error, with possible consequences like food poisoning or, worse, bland food. Here are some tips to avoid falling prey to a bunk food cart.
The #1 most important thing to consider before settling on a street food stand, or restaurant, or anything for that matter, is taking stock of the clientele and making sure that it is predominantly made up of locals. Not only do locals know what’s good in their area, their presence also ensures that the food is authentic and that you won’t be subjected to inflated tourist prices.
Clean But Not Too Clean
Obviously, you want to make sure that the place you’re eating isn’t flagrantly violating a plethora of health violations. But if a place is too clean, too shiny, too new, this just isn’t going to be a true street food experience. Real, authentic street food requires a little grit and just a whisper of a salmonella risk.
If you can’t smell it from down the block, don’t buy it. The street food scale of excellence is based on greasiness, tastiness, and powerful flavor. You want that pad thai or al pastor taco or whatever it may be to be hearkening to you from down the street.
Not only do there need to be locals eating at your street food spot, there need to be a lot of them. Nothing is sadder, or a worse omen, than an empty street food stand. The more crowded, the better. Even if you have to wait a moment or rub elbows with some locals while you eat, you know it’s going to be worth it. Street food is the one travel occasion in which it’s always a good idea to go with the crowd.
If your street food locale is located a little too close to a trash heap, or livestock, or swirling dust, or a busy highway, maybe pass it up for a spot that’s a bit more protected from the elements. As we said, a little grit is great, but exhaust, gravel, and dumpster flies a little less so.