Travel: Street-Food Survival Guide! (PART 1)

Posted on September 7, 2010


(I am uploading this blog from Cuba right now where the internet runs on a cup and string connection so please excuse any errors or problems viewing photos. Corrections will be made starting Jan 25 when I have better internet access. For my complete travel schedule and availability for sessions, please see my contact page. )

Sadly, so many people are scared to eat adventurously while traveling in anything less than “first world” conditions. They stick to the resort fare, or the “clean”, “safe” tourist-traps, paying more, and never really experiencing what locals nourish themselves with from day to day. The reality is that under these dire circumstances, you may never see who cooks your food, they probably don’t care, and the stats on food safety do not, in reality, brighten the picture.

I think street food often is what really captures the soul of a culture. It’s cheap, fast, and when done right can be some of the best food you’ll get anywhere. You can get to know locals and discover delicious nuances neighborhood by neighborhood. This applies most poignantly in the “less developed” world where street fare is an inextricable component of a culture’s core cuisine.

I make a point of eating where locals eat whenever I travel. This has included many countries where many consider it dangerous to stray from the most pedestrian of tourist troughs. I have been so delighted and most profoundly impacted by these culinary and cultural experiences that they often remain seared into my memory as the quintessence of the destination itself. These flavors then imbue and enliven my cooking repertoire at home.


I had originally planned to write this blog after an inspiring month in Mexico in 2009. Mexico is my personal top pick for great street food in all my travels to date, and my pictures represented a complete street gourmet’s photique of Mexico City, Oaxaca, Guanahuato, and Puerto Vallarta. I lost all my photos right at the end of the trip. So sad. I could not bear a bare blog. I did manage to get a few nice Mexico pictures from Yolaine however, who also happens to be a great photographer.

Since Mexico I have also taken a few other fantastic foodie tours including China and Guatemala.  Guatemala was a lesson well learned.  It was the first time I did not follow my own Rules of Engagement for travel-eating, and as a direct result I had some discipline-inspiring gastrointestinal  side-shows on and off for the whole 2 month trip!  More on the rules to come…

China has a massive street eats culture. Here is a some of the best:

I even ate a little street food during a short trip to Haiti in 2010, although the options there were of limited foodie interest and likely in the higher risk category!

DISCLAIMER! This is a personal passion of mine, not a professional recommendation. The information here is entirely anecdotal and I do not recommend that you go against the advice of your doctor, relevant travel advisories, or your own common sense. To sum up, if you get sick, i’m not responsible!

That said; the only bad food poisoning I have ever had was in Las Vegas and right here in Montreal.

The are real dangers, however.  Parasites, bacteria, and viruses in food can cause everything from a mild case of turista, to chronic illness, to death. It is my opinion and experience, however, that that not following the rules, even at home on your own turf, can get you in trouble. The strange thing is that when we’re at home we tend to assume that everything is safer or more regulated. The fact is that choosing the wrong hot dog stand in Toronto is more likely to end badly than some well chosen pigeon-on-a-stick in Chengdu or a blackmarket basement-made Chorizo in Havana.

There are some rules that can keep you safer at home and abroad…

NEXT WEEK, PART 2: The Rules of Engagement! Street Eats and Staying Safe…

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