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Sidewalk Chefs

Updated on November 15, 2011
Spicy fried grasshoppers
Spicy fried grasshoppers

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.


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    • d.william profile image


      4 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      There is quite a difference between 'splicing', 'grafting', etc..., between species and what Monsanto is doing.

      They are splicing into the genetic coding, genes that alter the genetic structures, that are known to cause cancer.

      For example, their greatest self emulating triumph is splicing genes of "weed killer" , and "insect killer'' poisons, into the plants to make them resistant to insects, and killing 'weeds' that 'naturally' grow around them.

      There have been many studies done in European countries that show feeding animals foods with these genetically 'altered' poisons cause cancer that spreads quickly. And genetic birth defect mutations.

      The old saying: 'we are what we eat' has never been more real than with this experiment they are doing on live humans.

      Ingesting GMO's that contain known poisons that kill and mutilate is certainly capable of being replicated in the body, and passed on to children.

      There have been many studies done on the ill effects of the genetic altering of cows to produce more milk, for instance, in reference to the increase in autism for example. [Humans are the only living species that systematically drink the milk of another species.]

      Here is a video on one such study done in France and totally ignored by the U.S. government with such blatantly reckless abandon of the safety of people.

      Messing with mother nature to this extent is a recipe for disaster, and once those altered genes are introduced they can not be undone.

      This is why it is imperative to maintain a supply of "natural" food seeds to save humanity from distinction by the greedy who only are concerned with their gross net profits and not the possible (probable)(or inevitable) side effects from their reckless assaults on nature without any logic need. these 2 videos will make my point clearer: and

      I certainly do not want to be part of that experiment, nor do my family members.

    • Borsia profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      In the 3rd world there is no such thing as "certified organic" for that matter I've never seen organic period.

      One thing that most people don't really understand is that everything we eat, bar none except perhaps wild game / fish, has been modified genetically. Since man first discovered that he could grow grasses we have selected the best and weeded out the rest. We learned to cross pollinate and perform selective breeding of plants and animals countless thousands of years ago.

      Watching your video about super cows there is nothing unholy or unnatural about selective breeding and they aren't using steroids or gene splicing they have simply used very careful selective breeding to achieve an end goal of bigger muscle masses.

      Technology is allowing us to speed up the process today by doing in a few generations what would require hundreds if not thousands, but the end result is still the same.

      From a nutritional standpoint there is nothing about a GMO product that make it any worse than a non-GMO. When the resulting product is dissolved in a vat of acids and enzymes (digestion) none of the DNA passes on to the consumer. We don't absorb anything differently simply because the parent plant or animal is genetically different than one that was modified over a greater span of time.

    • d.william profile image


      4 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      The way things are today in this country, i don't feel that most foods sold in supermarkets are safe for human consumption anymore.

      I try to eat only locally grown foods, rarely chicken or turkey, but more fish and sea foods as long as they are caught in the wild.

      Most 'farm raised' fish have been altered in some way.

      I used to have the attitude you mentioned above (The general rule in the 3rd world is "try it" if you like it you can ask what it was after) but not any more.

      Now with the growing concern people have in actually knowing what it is we are eating we are turning to local foods that have been ''certified organic''.

      Monsanto is trying to pass legislation in this country to ban the "organic farmers", and to be allowed to label GMO foods as "natural". There are enough corrupt politicians in Washington to allow this kind of lies to the public to actually happen.

    • Borsia profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Thanks for stopping by to read my hub.

      In many ways meat in the 3rd world is actually better than that in the 1st. Mostly because there are no stock yards. Cattle are raised on open land and slaughtered without ever being fattened on unnatural foods and without any kind of antibiotics or hormones. The problem lies more in how the meat s handled after the fact. Most vendors don't have any kind of refrigeration so everything is just left out. You buy it off the hoof and they carve what you want. But you have no way of knowing how long they have it, or where they got it. Unless you can recognize the beast you don't even know what it was in its previous life, might be beef, might be yak, might be caribou, might be horse ???

      Chicken, pork or fish are often better bets than "beef" but even they have their own issues.

      Even vegetables can only be trusted slightly more. You know what they are but have no way of knowing where they were grown. In China many are grown on the banks of horribly polluted rivers. In many countries human fertilizer is commonly used.

      To we of the 1st world insects are considered taboo, nasty, gross, etc. But to much of the world they are just considered to be food. Those that I've had were really quite tasty rather nutty, great with a cold beer. There were many I didn't want to try. Also many that I didn't like. As a Westerner they were more novelty than anything else.

      The general rule in the 3rd world is "try it" if you like it you can ask what it was after. If you don't like it nobody will be trying to force you to try it again.

      The bottom line is that you have to eat eventually so you might as well just do it. You'll probably be surprised.

    • d.william profile image


      4 years ago from Somewhere in the south

      Great article and good sensible advice. I rarely eat meat anymore, and never have ice, or lemon, in water ordered in a restaurant.

      Fast foods are out of the question, and beef should never be ingested as most of it is now from genetically modified cows/steer/or whatever they classify those monstrosities. - this will gross out most beef eaters.

      And bugs and insects are never going to be part of my diet (unless it is the last resort to survive) and even then - yuk.

    • Borsia profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Hi GOL

      To me the food is half the fun and half the culture.

      Not to mention that I consider McDonald, or any of the other international giants, far more dangerous than street food.

      If you are careful and observant you can usually find things that won't bother your stomach.

      McDs always upsets my stomach, even in the states. I would venture that it has been around 25+ years since I've eaten at one. But the last time I did I felt horrible all day.

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      You are an adventurous food lover, and are quite wise in how you select your street food. The hubbers has a very sensitive stomach, so whenever we travel it's always Macdonalds three times a day. This has been pretty frustrating. Although sometimes we'll eat in a restaurant that looks clean and well kept.

    • Borsia profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Hi Agusfanani;

      I've had squirrels, rabbits and some others but not rats, I've heard that rat is actually quite good. We had some grubs that were much larger

      than any maggots I'm familiar with. They looked a bit like Cheetos and,

      like many insects, had a nice nutty flavor. I tries mosquito eggs but didn't like them as they had a deep "swampy" musty flavor, no big surprise there.

      Thanks for stopping by


    • agusfanani profile image


      4 years ago from Indonesia

      Wow they are really exotic foods. Some areas in my country also consume grasshopper, wood rat, crickets, termites, some kinds of maggots which can help protein need of their body. So, they are beneficial for alternative nutrition sources.

    • Borsia profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Thanks for checking out the hub,,,, the grasshoppers really are pretty good. I had them many times but never really took to the chicken feet.

      But I never pass up a skewer of goose tongues.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      5 years ago from The Caribbean

      Very interesting read! You make me want to try the grasshoppers, and I already like chicken's feet. Thanks for the warnings though. We have to pay attention!

    • Thief12 profile image


      5 years ago from Puerto Rico

      Ugh, no thanks :-D Nice hub, though.

    • Borsia profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Thanks Rose; The world is full of flavors but believe me I don't try all of them I see, I passed on scorpions, spiders and cockroaches. I did try but don't recommend mosquito eggs and balot still grosses me out,,, lol.

      There are definitely ticks to eating safe no matter what you eat and most tourist get ill eating and drinking very common things.

      There was a girl in my school who ate ice from a drink and ended up allergic to the sun for the rest of her life.

      So enjoy but beware.

    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 

      5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      Fried grasshoppers, spicy duck heads and boiled peanuts, grilled goose tongues, blood cubes and goose esophagus.............hmmmmm! I don't know, even if I closed my eyes I don't think I could eat these delicacies, lol. This was such an interesting article because I know many people probably don't think about being careful when eating food abroad. A couple I know recently came back from a holiday in Cuba with their 1 year old, long story short, they all ended up with food poisoning and as soon as they landed in Toronto again, their child was hospitalized for almost a week. This is a very serious topic because you really don't want to develop food poisoning on vacation and for some it could be downright deadly. Great article! Thank you for sharing. (Voted Up) -Rose

    • Borsia profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Thanks Vespawoolf; Although I lived in Colombia for 3 years I never made it down to Peru.

      The trick is to brush all the legs off,,, lol. You might be surprised by the flavor, very nutty and a bit sweet excellent with beer.

      I've never tried guinea pig but I've had squirrel which might be similar.

      Also never tried rotted potatoes, sounds interesting.

    • vespawoolf profile image


      5 years ago from Peru, South America

      We also have to be very careful with food purchased on the street since we live in Peru. When we lived in the South up near Chile, we found conditions to be much more hygienic and we didn't have to be as cautious. But mountain towns are notoriously careless about hygiene.

      Many of the foods you describe from Chinese cuisine don't appeal to me (especially pink noodles!), although I would try them. Grasshopper legs stuck between my teeth would be enough to keep me from repeating that dining experience! Two of the more unusual dishes in Peru are probably guinea pig and rotted potatoes. Both are delicious! Voted up and shared.

    • Peanutritious profile image

      Tara Carbery 

      6 years ago from Cheshire, UK

      Ha ha, urgh! The joys of travelling solo!

    • Borsia profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Hi Peanutritious; thanks for taking time to read my hub.

      There is nothing quite like being ill in a strange land no matter where it might be. Great that someone brought you some bottled water I hope they also brought you a big supply of toilet paper,,, ;-)

      I was back in China in March and even though I was being very careful I got a sever case of the runs. Happily it didn't hit me until I was on my way back to Shanghai and I had finished my work. But for 2 days I didn't dare get out of site of a bathroom.

      It is a terrible feeling when you can't trust a fart,, lol.

    • Peanutritious profile image

      Tara Carbery 

      6 years ago from Cheshire, UK

      Great advice! I was never in China but ate street food in Thailand and India. I loved it! I'm vegetarian though so never indulged in Grasshoppers. Some of my friends did though. I loved the way they'd tie it up in a bag for you so you could eat it at home. I used to buy it on the way home from the school I was working at. I also loved buying the milkshakes with crushed ice and fresh fruit in the markets. There was nothing nicer on a boiling hot day! I got food poisoning in India from drinking a dodgy Lassi. I remember the fermented taste frothing inside me. Wow! Was I ill! I was staying in a dormitory in a guesthouse in Calcutta and had to lie down in front of an outdoor cubicle! I had no strength to climb up to my three tier bunk! Luckily another traveller took pity on me and bought me some bottled water! All good fun though eh!

    • Borsia profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Lol,,, KP; I don't think there is anyone trying to force you to try them.

      Some can be far beyond my willingness to be tempted, Scorpions on a stick comes to mind. But I always find them interesting even if I'm not up to the challenge.

      I'm considering moving to the Philippines next year so I may have a chance to compare it to other countries I've been in.

      A friend worked for a racing team that fielded an entry into the Baja 1000 every year.

      One year he was asked to take another guy with him from the head office.

      Not wanting to waste transit time rather than stopping at any restaurants he stopped at the taco stands along the way. His guest had passed on many but hunger got the better of him and he finally ordered some tacos.

      As they say on the tailgate eating he commented to my friend, Jim, that the tacos were really quite tasty.

      "There is something that bothers me though." he added.

      "I don't think they have any grading system for the beef."

      Jim broke out in a roaring belly laugh. "What or earth makes you think this is beef?"

    • kingphilipIV profile image

      Ramphil Basco 

      6 years ago from Iloilo, Philippines

      Exotic street foods? There are lots of that in the Philippines and I hate it..

    • Borsia profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Thanks for the comment Danette; When I talk about Sidewalk Chefs I am referring to someone with nothing more than a grill, usually made out of something like an old barrel, some have purpose built carts. But they are movable setups and have no type of seating nor tables.

      Food safety is something that us 1st worlders tend to take as granted but in the 3rd world there is no such thing as a safety inspection or health certificate.

      Of all my friend, including me, more have gotten sick from food, or drinks than any other thing.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 

      6 years ago from Illinois

      Interesting hub and I'll keep this info in mind if I ever travel overseas again. When my husband was on a WestPac many years ago, I met him in the Philippines, then again in a few other spots. We shared a table with an Australian couple at a sidewalk cafe in Singapore where the food was cooked on the spot. I don't think it occurred to either one of us that the food might not be safe.


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