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Choose Street Food Choosily

Tanzania (82)

Here we will see:

  • how great it can be to eat on the street
  • what to watch for when doing so
  • how to minimize getting sick from “street eating”

How tantalizing are the aromas of street food cooking up over an open flame. From the rickety cart on the sidewalk drifts the pleasing odor you smell during an evening stroll on your vacation. But, wait! Danger! Street food is contaminated with E-bowl-I’s, Salmon-L-a, cooties and evil.

No joking matter, a person can in fact get very sick on street food. But there are some steps you can take that will minimize the risk and accentuate the enjoyment of not missing out on these inexpensive, legitimate cultural experiences. We will consider these steps now.


Elementary, My Dear Watson

Step 1: Go loco for locals. Observe where the busiest vendors are. Are the people going there locals? Then they likely frequent this street-joint for three reasons: because it tastes good, the prices are reasonable, and they themselves don’t get sick from it. Locals stomachs may be more accustomed to the local bugs, but they are not impervious and they will avoid certain places if it has made them ill in the past.

If it is not the normal mealtime for the locals and nowhere that you can tell is busier than the other, communicate with a local at the mechanic shop or phone card seller to find out where they like to eat. Generally, locals will be happy to share their eatery spots with you.

Step 2: A watched kettle never boils, true. But a watched kettle when it boils, though never, will be better than a man without a kettle who has his in two fires… Okay, I lost myself. The advantage of some street foods is you can see them being prepared and cooked before your eyes. There is less question as to when it was cooked or whether it was cooked enough to kill any bugs if you’re watching it happen yourself.

On the flip side, a swanky tourist restaurant will have a kitchen with closed doors, doing things to your food you’d rather not know. Ironically, although these are the places that the “safe” tourists will frequent, they many times can be the reason for getting sick, more often than from street food. If they pull meat under a blanket to sell it to you, retreat.  If you see them sizzle it on the grill, go for it and wash it down with a Coke.

But as a disclaimer, this is not a fail-safe method as, even if you see the food being cooked, you do not know how long the food has sat. Like uncooked meat under the sun exposed to the flies, or whisked egg batter. So, you must use common sense on what food items would be okay and what looks fresh. Go with your gut, and your guts will go with you. (A wise man once said that, I could tell you who it was, but I’m anonymous. Oops! Blush, blush.)

Combine Steps 1 and 2 to be safer.



Eating street food should be done with caution, but should be done as, in many lands, this is the common “eating-out” experience for the common people. Enjoy the experience with them and remember to watch where the locals eat and watch what you’re going to eat.

If you’re on a bus and at a pit-stop people are selling meat like goat-on-a-stick, if you didn’t observe it getting cooked, chances are it hasn’t been done all too lately and isn’t worth the risk. Many times, these kinds of places will cook it the first time, and if it doesn’t sell for hours, days, they can always heat it up on the fire before the bus comes to give the illusion of fresh cooked food. Tummy says that’s not true. True story.

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