Dig In! [To Street Food in Asia, That is.]
Don’t steer away from experiencing the eclectic mix of Southeast Asian street cuisine.
So you’re a foodie, traveling on a budget, and have just arrived in Southeast Asia. “To eat street-food or not to eat street-food, that is the question.” Isn’t that how this goes? Maybe my wording is a little off, but this is a perplexing topic for many travelers who wish to be adventurous but not at the risk of a nasty stomach bug.
There will always be those horror stories of “That one time when I was in Bangkok and the street food looked so harmless, but 30 minutes after I ate it….” Many travelers can identify with that statement and fill in the rest of the sentence in a much more graphic manner. However, after traveling through Southeast Asia for over a month, eating street food more often than not, and never having a single experience like the one previously described, I would venture to say that we shouldn’t let those horror stories dictate our travel endeavors and food choices.
Some advice- Don’t steer clear of the street food, instead seek it out! Do some research or ask around as to where there are groupings of street vendors. Usually it is at these locations where the higher-quality [but not pricier] street food is found.
If you are in Bangkok– Look up the Phramongkutklao Hospital. On the grounds of the hospital there is an open air market where local vendors set up shop from early morning into the late afternoon. [This is where a lot of the physicians eat lunch during the day.] I spent a lot of time at this open air market throughout the course of my two-week stay in Bangkok. The food is delicious!! I don’t even know what I was eating quite frankly. But I do know this, every morning I started my day off with a Thai Coffee that they put into a sleeve for me so that I can carry my iced thai coffee drink by handle without spilling. [Why hasn’t this trend come back to the USA? It makes too much sense.] The vendors here also were incredibly sweet and eager to let me try a bite before I purchased a whole order.
You should also try:
Soups/stews– There were also street vendors who’s booth was surrounded by plastic tables and chairs making it more of a sit-down experience as oppose to food-to-go. It was at these locations where we tried different types of soups where we could choose meats if you are so inclined, but there was always vegetables and sometimes noodles in the mix.
You will notice at restaurants in Thailand the centerpiece of the table that consists of four different colorful condiment jars all conveniently placed into one caddy. It is in these jars that you will usually find fish sauce, dried/ground chilies, sugar, and finally a sauce comprised of chili/garlic/vinegar. It is this condiment caddy that makes Thai food easy to cater to the individual. If you want spicy and hot then by all means you can get super spicy and crazy hot!!
If you are taking the train ride from Bangkok to Siem Reap, Cambodia– Yes, I advise you to take the sketchy train. It’s a must if you are traveling from Bangkok to Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat. Yes, the ride is a long one, but ohhhh the things you will see, learn, and TASTE! At each stop along the five hour ride, women board one end of the train, walk the entire length of the train cars selling food, and then get off at the following stop. We ended up purchasing sticky rice and chicken which really hit the spot and didn’t leave me in search for a bathroom 30 minutes later!
OH but the best is yet to come. We sat next to the sweetest Thai couple who were probably in their early 70’s. Everytime a woman would walk by with goodies and food, the husband would motion to his wife if she wanted anything. She would then glance over all of the snacks and carefully selected what she desired from the basket while her husband promptly settled up with the vendor. [Truly, it was so sweet.] But WAIT FOR IT… The wife ended up selecting a bag of fried crickets and started snacking on them next to me. Popping them in her mouth like I would do with peanut m&m’s. She then handed the bag graciously to her husband to see if he would enjoy a cricket or two. Her husband then immediately looked up at me with the sweetest and most eager smile I have seen, motioning me to take a cricket. [How could I say no to this sweet man offering me some free fried crickets?!] So I partook in the snacking of fried insects… and I liked it. YUM:)