Safe Eating on the Run
For this hub I thought I would just use some excerpts from my book on travel safety; it is called "Smart Safe Traveler". If there seems to be much interest I might do more. This is just a small bit from the chapter on Food Safety.
During my time in China I was in the hospital twice for food poisoning. Both times it was my own fault for not paying enough attention to details.
I will start with what I think is the most fun which is eating on the street from open vendors or “Sidewalk Chefs”. Keep in mind that there are no health inspectors for these, or most others for that matter.
Throughout the 3rd world you will see countless sidewalk chefs selling everything you can imagine, along with a few that you might not imagine. Some of it is absolutely delicious and some, well, maybe not so much. But you owe it to yourself to give most of it a try.
I learned that I actually do like spicy fried grasshoppers (pictured). Hey; it certainly surprised me. They are crunchy like chips and have a very nutty flavor that mixes very nicely with the spiciness. The only thing that I didn’t like about them is that the little legs get trapped around and between your teeth.
It turns out I also love grilled goose tongues and rabbit heads. There is nothing like sitting down with a bunch of friends and sharing cold beer and platters of spicy duck heads and boiled peanuts.
On the other side on the plate, or at least on my plate were blood cubes, not that bad but very bland and a weird aftertaste. I don’t like rooster privates or chicken’s feet, no matter how they are cooked.
I still don’t care much for most entrails, although I do love pink noodles aka duck or goose esophagus.
To the best of my knowledge I didn’t eat dog or cat, but I wouldn’t wager too much on that.
But there were, in all, more things that I liked than I didn’t. What I suggest is; try it first, before you attempt to find out what it is. If you like it have more and if you don’t no one will try to force it on you a second time.
The funniest thing was that while I tried everything at least once. The Chinese aren’t big on trying Western cooking, and I am a fairly good cook.
When you stop at a sidewalk chef’s grill take a minute to look at how they handle the food. Do they make any attempt to keep reasonable separation between the cooked and the raw? Is there any contact between the food and any water? Are they splashing any type of sauce or salsa on the finished product? Is it being served on any type of noodles, salad, rice or anything else that isn’t coming straight out of a cooking pot?
If you can see the entire preparation from start to finish and can take it from their hand before it touches any other surface it is pretty safe. As long as everything you eat is cooked thoroughly. (It will always be well done, because that’s all they know.)
Throughout most of the 3rd world they tend to cook everything beyond all reasonable doubt, and recognition for that matter. Even though they are hardened to most all of the local maladies they don’t take too many chances.
Rice is safe so long as it is coming straight from the steamer. Just make sure that the serving spoon or paddle isn’t being placed on a questionable surface between uses. You will often see sweet potatoes on the street. The potatoes that are coming straight out of the oven, usually a converted 55 gal drum, are safe, just don’t eat the skins. If they offer anything to put on them pass on it.
Note; The oven should be a well used drum. There is no way to know what was in it originally. So if there are any traces of paint on the outside pass it by.
Water should never be trusted and is something you need to pay attention to. Always ask for bottled water in the bottle. Never use ice and make sure that the seal on the bottle wasn’t broken before you got it. It isn’t too uncommon to see water bottles being refilled out back.
I was once presented with a bottle of water that was murky brown. The server feigned opening it trying to make the clicking sound with his fingernails.
A high school friend spent a summer in Mexico with her family. They were very careful about what they drank but they forgot about the ice. I don't remember the name of the malady she caught but she is allergic to the sun now. The doctor tells her that it will never go away.