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A Guide to Adventures in Street Food

June 14, 2011

Many times, one is advised to avoid street food while traveling.  I think this is not always good advice and following it often means missing out on some of the best food you can find in a new place.

Let me explain:

I am generally a fan of trying any and all local food that I can.  And I don’t think street food is an automatic no no and most definitely not an automatic health hazard.

For those of you who don’t know, travelers diarrhea is often related to your body adjusting to a different set of harmless bacteria (the kind that don’t cause food poisoning in everyone but live in the body normally) from the ones you find at home.  The technical term for the bacteria that live on and around your body is “normal flora” and in different areas or in different people one finds variation in the normal flora.  Changing locations means getting used to a different set of normal flora and sometimes that means going through some rather unfortunate side effects…like diarrhea.  This can happen even in the same place.

For this particular trip, having already dealt with a rather significant bout of travelers…er…intestines, I’m feeling somewhat indestructible.  I know my body has dealt with the worst, is adjusting to a separate set of normal flora and will come out fine in the end.  What does this mean for my attitude towards food now?  Other than avoiding the vast quantities of meat available here that I don’t normally consume….it means, live it up!

I love local cuisine.  Scratch that, I love food.   I like to cook it, watch it being prepared, grow what parts of it I can in plots of land and of course, Eat It!

There is a plethora of street food available here in Peru.  Pretty much all of it is unbelievably delicious.  So. Good.

I heard someone quip at one point that street food is probably the safest food you can find because Everyone eats it.  If it was producing regular cases of food poisoning, let’s face it:  no one would go back, tourists and locals alike.  So, eat where the locals do but with some slight adjustments.  Here are my rules for street food:

1) Give yourself time for your stomach to adjust to a new locale.  You’ll figure out the timing on this for yourself the more you travel, if you don’t know your own body, I’d say give it a week or so before you venture out of the well-cooked-in-a-clean-restaurant-or-home types of food.  You can dive right in to even the less carefully prepared local food but you might get an accelerated adjustment period (read: explosive di-di).

2) Avoid things that don’t handle lukewarm temperatures well–like MEAT or CHEESE.  See whether the meat is being stored raw near the fire for extended periods of time or whether it’s cooked quickly and fully.  Personally, I avoid street meats, there are many more options available with less potential for problems.

3) Food you watch getting fried or cooked is especially good.  You know how things should be cooked, if you watch it happen, you know what you’re getting into.

4) Go where locals are going.  If local people aren’t eating it, don’t!

5) I highly recommend sweets and fried things, they hold up well and are DELICIOUS.

Lastly, my advice is no matter what:  Be Adventurous and Enjoy!

Some of my favorite street foods from Peru so far include:  that orange fried thing with honey (see pic), banana chips (literally thinly sliced banana, fried to crisp with a little bit of salt), raw sugar cane, peanuts in this sweet molassesy stuff, and chocolate covered marshmallows.  Here are some pics:



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