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Sep 4, 2009 11:11 AM

Do you travel internationally and, if you do, do you eat street food?

I got to thinking about this because we're leaving for three weeks in Rio soon and we always have a blast hanging out with locals and eating street food.

If you have the means and the opportunity, do you like to travel internationally and how do you eat and make dining decisions while abroad? I find that we seldom eat at any place that's been recommended. I remember in Paris a few years ago, we were staying on the Left Bank and would walk up to the Blvd. St. Germain in the evening for an apperitif. After that we would just wander the side streets til we found a restaurant where the menu (and price!) and ambiance suited us. We were always happy with our meals. One of our daughters and her husband honeymooned in Thailand a couple of years ago and ate street food constantly, especially some sausages that they particularly love (they call 'em "street meat"). We've eaten chicharones in Peru in a tiny room on the second floor of some building, fried chicken wings from a street vendor in Guatemala. Almost every lunch we eat in Rio is from these ubiquitous bars/cafes that have a blackboard with up to a dozen specials listed. 99.9% of the time we're the only English speakers. My husband didn't like their liver but that was the only failure. But I know from perusing these boards that they're are people here who aren't risk-takers especially. I'm guessing a lot of time it's because of your significant other. But I see people who want to research and research and research some more. Everybody has their own way and none are wrong, but that would spoil alot of the traveling for me. I want lots of "adventures" and the food is a BIG part of that. I'd rather have the occasional dud of a meal than to know in advance where I'm going to eat all the time.

So do you travel internationally and, if so, what's your comfort level? Does it need to be clean? Have a wine list? Have someone there who speaks a little English? How spontaneous do you want to be? Just curious, kids :)

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  1. I'm easy. If it looks good or interesting, it's likely I will put it in my mouth. This attitude can get me in trouble.

    15 Replies
    1. re: Lizard

      Nah. You only go around once, ya know.

      1. re: c oliver

        True, but if you spend three days of your trip doubled over in agony, is it worth that particular go-round?

        I eat street food, but only if it is hot, like boiling hot, looks fresh, and the stall looks clean. In Thailand I would eat just about anywhere, but in India I would be more careful.
        I don't need anyone to speak English, although, if you're traveling most places it's actually pretty hard to find someone who doesn't know at least a few words.

        When I travel it is usually a combination of spontaneous and planned. I want to eat everything that smells good, but I also want to take the recommendations of friends who have traveled as well.

        1. re: lulubelle

          I'm with you on the piping hot -- never had any problems.

          1. re: lulubelle

            Oh, I agree with you. Your brain shouldn't be on holiday just because you are! The chicken wings we ate from the street vendor is Guatemala came straight out of the cauldron of boiling oil.

            I guess i shouldnt be surprised that the non-street-food people haven't commented.

          2. re: c oliver

            Ever been in a third world market in the meat section where flies are as thick as, well, flys? Turns me off when they are all over the meat and I am not squeemish. I figure the street vendors (and probably some restaurants too) buy their meat in the market so decide for yourself. At almost 60, my stomach ain't as cast iron as it used to be. I've been all over the world and am much more careful now than I used to be.

            1. re: missclaudy

              I'm older and bolder than you :) I figure even if the flies have landed on the meat I'm going to be cooking it for a long time that would kill anything period. Or I'm going to grill it and the exterior will get hot enough to kill anything. As others have said here and you touch on, those same meats are likely being prepared in professional kitchens, using local water, etc. If I gotta die, let it be eating :) But this is such a personal issue. I really didn't start this thread for discussion of safety issues but more along the lines of how adventuresome some are and some aren't. No judgements from me AT ALL.

              1. re: c oliver

                I love your attitude and I used to be able to eat anything. I and a friend almost DID die eating in India a few years ago (actually, from injesting what came to be known by my companions as "that poisoned samosa," not even from fly covered meat which I had given up for this particular trip.So watch the fly covered samosas too people !

                1. re: missclaudy

                  Ooh, I samosas SO much; it's terrible that you will always have that bad connection. If I ever get really sick (knock wood), it wouldn't be surprising if it effected my future choices. When in Kenya and Tanzania I did have a very low grade diarrhea for most of the two weeks. Not enough to medicate. Just a reaction to a change in diet as others have said.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Thanks for the samosa sympathy, there was nothing low grade about how sick we were. I always expect very LGD whan I travel. I have managed to conquer my fear of samosas and scarf them down with pleasure any chance I get !

              2. re: missclaudy

                In China, I was really surprised at the skewers of meat served on the street. They were tiny bits of meat. Any grilling at all and they were cooked through and through. Incredibly delicious. I suppose that even if flies had been on the meat, they would have been ever so crispy.

                1. re: Steve

                  Like these ones street side in China? The guy rolled up on his bike with a char grill on his rear fender, skewers in a basket up front.
                  1 yuan each, never tasted anything as good!

                  1. re: legourmettv

                    Good shots! Yes, exactly. And the price is correct; that's the going rate. Two of us ate dinner for 13 yuan.

                2. re: missclaudy

                  If this were a deal breaker, we never would've eaten meat in Saudi Arabia. We figured that the outside of the meat was going to get hot enough to kill anything. It was the spraying of DDT on the fish at the fish souk that threw us for a loop.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    When I was a kid my dad was stationed at he Naval Air Station in Millington, Tennesee. I was 2 when we moved there and 6 when we left. They used to run a fogging truck that dispensed DDT all over the base every evening about sundown during the summer. We used to run in the fog for fun until we were discovered by a nondrunk parent one night. I'd know that smell anywhere, I think.

                    1. re: EWSflash

                      Wow. And you can write sentences complete with capitalization and punctuation. That's one of those stories that makes me shake my head and chuckle (only a little) at the same time.

            2. Yes. If it smells good, I will eat it.

              1 Reply
              1. re: Caralien

                Oh, yeah. How many times have I gone into a restaurant because of some wonderful smell wafting out the door (if they have a door). Then try to figure out what it was by looking at others' plates. And, like Sherri said, a little or a lot of pantomine is a useful thing.

              2. The original comment has been removed
                1. I've eaten "Street Food" for years on travels - Europe, Asia, Mexico, the US to name some destinations. Usually, I'll watch for a line of locals; smiles are a plus. Whether this is a reliable sign of goodness I cannot say but it has served me well.

                  In the Phillipines I ate at street stands all the time, I do the same in Mexico and Europe. I cannot honestly remember a time that I became ill. Like Lizard & Caralien, if it looked or smelled good, I was a customer. Much of the time, I had no idea what I was eating and perhaps this non-communication was a good thing. It is a part of the travel adventure. I will also admit to picking fruit and eating it out of hand. This gambit makes my husband uneasy since I don't always know what I'm eating and he fears for my health and his responsibility to bail me out from possible theft charges.

                  "So do you travel internationally and, if so, what's your comfort level? Does it need to be clean? Have a wine list? "
                  OK, c.oliver, we must be finding very different street food places because I have NEVER seen a wine list at any of the places I've eaten! Never.

                  Do I eat in dives and joints? Youbetcha! Some of my favorite meals have been in hole-in-the-wall spots which may or may not have a name. Wine list? Never. Local hooch or beer? Mebbe, and if so, I'm game for a try.

                  Fresh fish from a fisherman broiled on a stick at a no-name beach in Southern Mexico remains one of my favorite food memories as do the spicy some-kind-of-nuts in Japan and roasted chestnuts one wintry day in the Frence countryside. What turned out to be chicken gizzards was a hysterical half-hour pantomime with a vendor who spoke not one word of English and my Portuguese did not cover innards. Whole volumes could be written about the glories of Street Food in Asia.

                  When I'm home in AZ, I eat at taco trucks every chance I get. On any of these taste adventures, I use common sense. I'm old enough to know that if it doesn't feel right, I shouldn't do it. But straying slightly out of my comfort zone has given me taste delights that I wouldn't trade for all the sanitized food in the world. Have a wonderful trip, filled with good eats.

                  18 Replies
                  1. re: Sherri

                    You can travel with us anytime!!! The "wine list" question was because I read here occasionally where someone comments that they didn't have a decent wine list. I want to scream "get over it, lady; look at the kind of place; of course, it doesn't have a wine list." ALL the "joints" in Rio where we eat have the most gawd-awful red, probably 5 liter jug of wine covered with dust. I'm really not a beer drinker but have learned to love Brazilian Antartica which is so cheap the nicer places won't even serve it. It's kept in a separate cooler that's colder than where the keep the better beers. It frequently has ice crystals in it. While in Rio, we go to a big farmers' market and they're offering so many samples of fruit, it makes a meal. And this isn't antiseptic, toothpick kinda offering. They have the whole whatever in their hand and slice off a piece with a huge knife and hand it to you. Nothing better. And, like you and others here, I follow my instincts. I didn't drink the water in Peru, Kenya or Tanzania but have everywhere else.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      we heading back to St. Lucia next month--safe in all respects. The best food is from the small local places (we have been trying to get roti here, and it hasn't worked).

                      While in Mexico for a friend's wedding, I will admit that I didn't drink much water, and was likely dehydrated. Rum and cokes, with fresh lime, that I drank a lot of. My friends from Canada and the US got Montezuma's revenge, I didn't. That said, on Paros, I got sick from the water--and learned to brush my teeth with bottled (non-local) water. This was in '92. My guess is that it has improved since then, but I sadly, haven't been back.

                      I'm trying to plan a trip to Cairo soon. We'll get whatever shots are necessary (if that), and will eat and carry some pepto tabs with us (just in case), but I'm really not worried. Food and travel are some of the sensual pleasures I can still afford (travel less, but that's another thing).

                      1. re: Caralien

                        You won't need any shots for Cairo, but it is pretty easy to get sick. I've traveled all over and Cairo is really the only place I've gotten ill other than just minor stomach problems that went away with a little medicine. I was totally wiped out for 24 hours and couldn't move from the bed and my travelmate was wiped out for 48. I had another friend who went the same time with another group and was also sick for 24 hours. All I can say is that I've never talked to so many people who got sick in such a short period of time. This was just a year ago. I used Motilium, but I am not sure that's available here in the US or in Egypt. It helps with a variety of stomach issues. Hopefully you're there for more than 5 days just in case you get sick 1-2 days.

                        1. re: queencru

                          Years ago I ate something I shouldn't have in Cairo; I was very ill for 6 MONTHS. Have no idea what the nasty was (living in Saudi Arabia at the time, with no real doctors), but it was bad.

                          1. re: pikawicca

                            Wow- sorry to hear that. That's definitely a risk though. I worked with a father/daughter who went on a family trip to India and had a similar experience. They all got very ill and the father didn't recover for over a year. I think that was about 10 years ago. I feel really lucky that I've only had to experience 24 hours of that type of sickness.

                            1. re: queencru

                              I think that too many travelers downplay the risks. The chance of getting gravely ill are small, but if you do, you could die. Be smart and choose wisely.

                              1. re: pikawicca

                                I agree with your comments completely - except for the first sentence :) I think that there are too many people out there (and here) who are crying wolf. The "be smart" is the best part.

                                1. re: pikawicca

                                  What's a bigger chance? Being hit by a bus or from eating something bad?

                                  1. re: Jase

                                    I know some places where you can do both.

                                    1. re: Veggo

                                      I'd probably get hit by the bus because i was too busy eating the food. I can't walk and chew gum at the same time anyway.

                                      1. re: Veggo

                                        Rio bus drivers scare the poop out of me but the food never does :)

                              2. re: queencru

                                I have to strongly disagree. Though I had a great time in Cairo, if you plan on eating the local food, be mindful that proper food hygiene does not seem to be done except in very high end restaurants and hotels. (I say this through observation as well as speaking to several locals.)

                              3. re: Caralien

                                Caralien, I am just returning from my third month in Cairo and will be returning in 3 weeks to spend the year there. My advice is to go to any pharmacy in Cairo and get a packet of Antinol. This should cost you 5LE -- about 95 cents -- and it is an intestinal disinfectant and good against whatever might ail you. It is better than Pepto by far, and is so safe it is even give to pregnant women and children. It does its work in the intestines and is not absorbed into the rest of the body.
                                Re street food-- my rule of thumb in Egypt is that if there are a lot of people eating there, the food is fine since the turnover is likely to be rapid. My biggest warning about Cairo, however, is that it is not really a foodie destination. I've posted a lot about various restaurants on the Africa and Middle East board.

                                1. re: roxlet

                                  that's great advice. I have an old housemate from Cairo and may actually be pregnant when we visit (next year), so things are okay. My main reason, of course, would be to visit the wonders I have wanted to visit for as long as I could remember! Plus a stuffed pigeon. Bourdain is wrong in stating that people everywhere eat it--they dont. But there, I am convinced, it should be tried.

                                2. re: Caralien

                                  Decades ago while in China, locals advised me to brush my teeth with bottled beer (caps had not been opened) it was supposedly common for hotel "bottled" water to be refilled from the hotel tap.

                                  1. re: Stephanie Wong

                                    While in Paros, I got sick from the tap water. I had to buy non-Greek bottled water to brush my teeth. This was 1992. It's apparently better, but I haven't had the pleasure to test it again! (seriously, I would love to go back; we've been back to Athens, but not the islands)

                              4. re: Sherri

                                Sherri, you sound like the kind of person I'd like to travel with.

                                1. re: EWSflash

                                  I've got first dibs so you have to travel with a group :)

                              5. In Rio my diet mainly consisted of:
                                - acai and papaya juice (suco de mamao) and sandwiches from the sucos bars
                                - cheese on a stick on the beach
                                - lunch from the kilo places
                                - caipirinhas

                                I got sick the first day I arrived in Rio on two separate trips. I suspect it was b/c I was getting used to the water from the ice from all the caipirinhas I was chugging from the beach kiosks.

                                Street food is the way to go for me!

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: lochan

                                  The problem with the Rio water is it's SO highly chlorinated. I can take it icy cold but for the glass by the bed at night, I used bottled. Warm temp water that strongly smells and tastes of chlorine just doesn't work for me.

                                  Our flight gets in around 10am. We'll head straight to the apt., drop our bags and head to the beach for caiparinhas (plural) and some snacks.