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Is street food safe in Southeast Asia?

I am a lover of food of all kinds. It doesn't matter to me if a restauant is five-star or no-star. I understand that the best food in Souheast Asia can be found on the streets. Any tips on how I can tell which hawker stalls are safe and clean? I know enough not to drink tap water, of course. - F.B. - Guest

is street food safe southeast asia
I consider myself to be a street food connoisseur, and Southeast Asia to be one of the best destinations for appreciating street grub. It doesn't matter whether you're going to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Bangkok, or Manila -- these cities have some of the best street side, stool-on-the-pavement affairs serving up dishes that rival those you'll find in 5-star joints.

To fully enjoy Asian street food without risking food poisoning, keep these tips in mind:

1. Watch your food being cooked. Those boiling cauldrons of Vietnamese pho, those freshly fried shrimps, and those skewers being barbecued as you order - they are all likely to be clean if you can see them being cooked before your eyes. Try to avoid anything precooked.

2. Stay away from ice and 'mysterious colored drinks.' They might have been made with unfiltered water. Bring your own bottle of mineral water or order soda in a bottle or a can.

3. Bring your own utensils.
You don't know if those reusable chopsticks were sanitized. I like to use my own foldable fork when disposable utensils are not provided.

4. Eat where the locals eat. It's easy to tell if a certain food stall is reputable by looking at how many locals eat there. The longer the line, the greater the reward. I once queued for 15 minutes for pho in Hanoi and let me tell you -- it was worth it.


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The hawker food culture has spread through Asia like wildfire. While saying that the best food in SEA can be found on the streets is a bit of a stretch, it is true that great culinary treats can only be enjoyed right off a street vendor's boiling pot or steaming pan, not to mention they are super cheap!

Eating out (literally) on the streets of some of the most sought after Asian capitals is one of the most interesting cultural experiences you will forever take with you. While you can't really expect a Michelin star restaurant experience at these street side shacks, you don't have to pay big money for the ambiance and comfort, yet still be served a heartily prepared local specialty.

To make sure that you won't get food poisoning from raw meats and fresh ingredients sitting out in the open, always look for busy carts. You may have to make a beeline to get a taste of their food, but you can be sure that what they serve is good (and fresh). If you are still worried about your safety, just remember that no hawker food business serving bad/dangerous food would ever last long in Asian streets, thanks to the discerning tastes of the locals themselves.

If you are visiting the Manila in the Philippines and would like to ensure that you are eating clean street food, visit the University of the Philippines Diliman's Consumers' Cooperative and Shopping Centre on Laurel Avenue within the campus in Quezon City. It is close to the Parish of the Holy Sacrifice, University of the Philippines Infirmary, and a post office.

Vendors selling street food there are easily identifiable by their vests. Students, employees, and visitors from other schools flock to them for cheap treats and snacks like fish balls, balut, banana-cue (similar to skewered barbecued meat, except that it's fried bananas in caramelized brown sugar), and kwek-kwek (quail eggs wrapped in orange-colored batter). Avoid dipping your food in jars of sauces after taking a bite, so you won't contaminate it and it remains clean for other diners.

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