One of the great joys of traveling is exploring new cultures through the culinary delights they have to offer. New dishes, new ingredients, new tastes, new smells can add up to create some of the most enduring memories of a trip abroad.
While you can eat just fine at hotels and restaurants, if you really want to get under the skin of the cuisine a new place has to offer, you have to eat like a local. And in many parts of the world, that means enjoying the rich variety of street food available.
Unfortunately, many people are afraid of sampling street food because of concerns over hygiene, and with it, the dreaded Traveler’s Tummy.
Although upset stomachs on holiday can be caused by dehydration, adjusting to a new climate and stress, another common cause is bacteria picked up from food and drink. E-coli is a particularly prolific repeat offender and can cause the sort of symptoms which ruin a good trip. In isolated cases, or in people with underlying medical conditions, it can cause serious illness.
While no one wants to spend several days of a trip abroad chained to the toilet, it should not put people off trying street food entirely. It really will give you an experience you cannot replicate in expensive restaurants and generic fast food outlets, and with the right levels of common sense and awareness, the risks can be minimised. Here are some simple tips to get you started.
Dairy will spoil faster than meat if it is not kept refrigerated. It is avoided in many hot countries for this reason, but be vigilant in any case. If you must have milk in your tea or coffee, ask if they have condensed milk from a tin.
This can be easier said than done, as tap water may be used for everything from making the ice in drinks to washing salad.
Leading on from the last point, the water issue makes it a good idea to avoid raw salads. But it is good practice to only stick to cooked foods anyway – and well cooked foods at that. If there is any hint of anything being undercooked, don’t eat it.
Unless you absolutely cannot imagine a meal without meat, going veggie is a great way to sample authentic street food while minimising the risks of food poisoning. The chances of getting a bacterial infection from a veggie meal are far, far slimmer than meat, assuming there is no dairy involved. Plus, many cultures specialise in absolutely delicious vegetarian food.
If you find a street café or stall absolutely teeming with local customers, the chances are that the food is not only very good, but also safe. Word gets round if hygiene standards and food are dodgy, and people will avoid those places. Somewhere popular, however, must be doing something right.
Don’t force yourself to eat somewhere if you don’t like the look of it. If it doesn’t look clean, if you are not happy with the way you can see the food being cooked, walk away.
The last point is to remember to take the right precautions before you travel as well. Sometimes you can be as careful as can be, and eat at only the most expensive restaurants, and still pick up a bug that leaves you reeling.
Always make sure you take out travel insurance before you go, in case you need medical help while you are away. This is even more important if you have a pre-existing medical condition. If you get a dose of traveller’s tummy and it causes complications, an ordinary travel insurance policy may not cover you. Make sure you get specialist cover for your condition.
Avanti Travel Insurance specialises in providing bespoke policies for a wide range of medical conditions. Have a look at our website for more details.