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To Eat or Not to Eat

by Thuy-An Nguyen

photography courtesy of Amanda Willis

When it comes to traveling overseas, many look for authentic culinary experiences, seeking out night markets and traditional restaurants. But how plausible is it to have this kind of experience without worrying about contracting a food-borne illness?

It’s important to recognize that just because food comes from afar doesn’t necessarily mean that it is more dangerous to consume. Often, travelling to a new country can make you ill simply because your body is not accustomed to the food.

Regardless, staying safe and healthy while travelling abroad should be guided primarily by common sense, especially if you’re travelling to a developing country.

There are some basic rules everyone should follow. For example, you should only drink from bottled water, stay away from sidewalk food stands and only eat fruits and vegetables that can be peeled or thoroughly cooked.

Beyond this, however, there are other basic guidelines you can follow to still ensure you have an authentic and safe food experience abroad. One of the greatest resources at a traveler’s disposal is the internet, including food or travel bloggers. The blogging community has become so expansive that there are ample opinions and accounts of travel experiences.

Increasingly, there are writers that gear their journaling towards a less expensive, and more unique experiences, in less commercialized countries. Damon and Jo run a travel blog of this nature. The blog Shut Up and Go and their YouTube channel feature content geared towards having authentic travel experiences for those on a budget.

Doing research ahead of time can certainly help prepare you for the new cultural climate and learn how to navigate yourself through it. Knowing some of the language can be critically helpful as well, especially if your native language is not widely spoken there.

Phrase books, language apps and even Google’s translation service are great resources available to familiarize yourself with vocabulary surrounding food and safety. They can be very useful in making a judgement of what might be safe to eat and what could be risky.

Additionally, there are some general indicators of what might be safe places to eat. Restaurants or places that sell food in high-density locations and in areas of high tourism such as beaches or resorts generally tend to be safer. While they might not offer off-the-beaten-path options, they are more frequented and regulated.

Look for sit-down restaurants. While there is certainly Instagram appeal to night markets and street food, in developing countries, the chances that these sources are regulated for food safety is much lower. If anyone along the road is harassing you to eat their food, that should be a clear sign that it might not be safe.

It’s a good rule of thumb to observe what food spots appear to be the most popular, especially with locals, and what dished people are eating from those places. This applies especially late into the night because locations that offer safe and good food tend to be popular late night spots.

It should be noted that these guidelines aren’t concrete, and they can vary from place to place. There are always exceptions to pattern, and in some countries the street food and night markets are notorious foodie destination.

Next time you go abroad, be sure to use your common sense when it comes to your meals. That being said, don’t be afraid to try something new if it looks appetizing.

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