Are you traveling to Vietnam? Do you want to explore Vietnamese cultures, history and customs and experience with local street food? But you do not know how to eat street food without getting sick. Vietnam Shore Excursions is here to write this blog to give you, hopefully, some useful tips on how to stay healthy when you are in Vietnam. From how to choose mineral water; keep your hands; eat fruits,… This is all you need to take note!
- Maybe you are interested in Vietnam Culinary Tour 15 Days, Classic Vietnam Tour 12 Days, Vietnam Battlefield Tours 17 Days or Hue Street Food Tour.
Top 11 Tips of How to Eat Street Food Without Getting Sick
1. Eat Cooked Foods
This has to be number one on my list. And very luckily, in Vietnam this is super simple as generally they eat three cooked meals per day. By cooking the foods, bacteria are less likely to be an issue. When eating pho (Vietnamese national dish – noodle soup) the broth has usually been bubbling for hours and is likely to kill any little critters hanging around. Even better is if you can see the food being cooked in front of you – a distinct advantage of eating street food. Beef pho (Pho bo) is a popular food – just make sure the beef is cooked rather than raw when added to your broth.
Avoiding salads is also a good plan. Luckily, they are often accompaniments to cooked food, so you can just leave it or throw it in your broth. Raw herbs are used a lot, we just throw them in our broth for flavor, you can choose not to eat them if preferred, the taste imparted just from being in the broth is reward enough for your taste buds.
2. Keep Your Hands Clean
This should be obvious and I’m sure you do it after going to the toilet and before bed. But what about before you eat? Or eating hand-held food? What about before you rub your eye or lick your finger to turn over a page in your guide book? What about after handling money? Transmission of bacteria and parasites are usually via the fecal-oral route. Just think of all the doorknobs, handrails, handles you’ve touched on your travels. Add to this the people who don’t wash their hands. Yuk!
- Wash your hands whenever there is hot water and soap available.
- Air dry your hands (don’t use communal towels).
- Use your elbows and feet to open toilet doors on your way OUT – think of all the people who don’t wash their hands!
- Keep your fingers out of your mouth.
- Use hand sanitizer when water and soap is not available. Now let me make it clear I am not a fan of hand sanitizers ordinarily due to the chemicals contained that can affect hormones. However, on balance I decided that two weeks of exposure was preferable to getting really sick! I found one without alcohol.
- Always wash your hands or sanitize them before you eat.
- Take travel wipes to wipe surfaces (aero plane food trays) and cutlery.
3. Follow the Queues
This is a traveler’s classic. And on the whole, we’ve found this work really well. Once in Hanoi & Hoi An we ignored our own advice as we were tired and hungry, we had a very disappointing meal. We weren’t ill, but the reason the places were empty is that the food wasn’t up to scratch. If there’s not a fast turnover of food, then it may have been sitting around a bit too long which may increase your risk of getting sick.
4. Check TripAdvisor
I really wish we’d checked more reviews as back-ups close to our hotel before we travelled to Vietnam. Whether it stops you getting ill, I can’t guarantee but good reviews (and plenty of them over time) generally indicates a popular restaurant with repeat customers. Remember that many street food stalls or very small restaurants won’t be on TripAdvisor, nor will ones that are frequented mainly by locals.
5. Watch the Money
One of the reasons many people fall ill around the world is because of the bacteria on bank notes. Think how often they change hands – money is the most frequently passed item in the world! Vietnam is a cash economy; you’ll be handling money a lot. Vietnamese bank notes are plastic (like the UK new £5 notes), so it’s fair to assume they may be less likely to hold bacteria. The only member of our family to have a few hours of slightly-looser-than-would-have-liked bowels was my dear husband. The only difference was that he handled all the money!
- Check on street food stalls that one person is handling the food and another the money.
- Use your hand sanitizer after handling money (after a trip to the ATM).
6. Only Eat Fruit You Can Peel
In Vietnam this doesn’t mean missing out much at all. Fruits with thick enough skins to peel include bananas, rambutans, mango, papaya, custard apple, dragon fruit & pineapple to name a few. We avoided thin-skinned apples & pears (which actually mostly hotels provided in the room) and strawberries used as decoration. This photo was of fruit provided in our room (for our wedding anniversary) – we ate the dragon fruit but left the pear.
7. Beware of the Water – Ice, Bottled Water, Salads
This is probably another of the biggies. Bacteria & parasites are often water-borne and I have had many clients pick up nasty bugs white water rafting in Borneo or similar adventures. In fact, just brushing your teeth in contaminated water can make you seriously ill. Without the fun of wild water rafting, damn. So, what to do?
- Use sealed bottled water everywhere, even for teeth brushing.
- Ask for drinks with no ice (this is tough in 37-degree Vietnamese summer heat) but they often have refrigerated drinks anyway.
- Avoid salads that may have been washed in contaminated water.
8. Keep Hydrated
Keeping well hydrated helps to keep your digestive system moving and will help to wash through any toxins. This is preferable to them taking up residence in your gut. Coconut water is an excellent drink to keep your electrolytes balanced when you are sweating lots in the humidity. In several places I ordered one, they came straight from the fridge so they were cold (without ice).
I also watched one lady cutting it up after I ordered it – talk about freshly made to order! A caveat to drinking – drink mostly away from meals where you can. Fluid with meals dilutes stomach acid which is important to kill any incoming pathogens and to digest your food (particularly protein).
9. Clean your Cutlery
Looking at street food stalls, you will often see hundreds of chopsticks in water that looks like it’s washed a hundred dishes with no washing up liquid! In a restaurant where you can’t see, you have no idea how clean they are. We watched one (pretty sizable and very busy) restaurant wash up everything by hand in large un-soapy bowls, no super-hot dishwashers! Just be sensible:
- Give the chopsticks a wipe with a hand wipe.
- Take your own chopsticks as a back-up (we did but never used them).
- Then stick your chopsticks in your hot pho/broth before you eat.
10. Eat when Locals Do
The reason for this is that the food turnover is faster, leading to far less likelihood of food hanging around. Many street food sellers buy all their ingredients at the market at 3am when markets open and keep selling food till they run out that evening. When the stalls are busy, food is never hanging around. We also found Vietnam fly-free (it may be different outside summer – we visited August). Or maybe it’s because flies only hang around rotting food?
11. Sugar Feeds the Bad Bugs
A really simple science lesson: Sugar and refined carbohydrates feeds bad bacteria & parasites Vegetables feed good bacteria It’s tempting on holiday, but favor real food over sugary ‘tourist’ desserts, international hotel sugar-and-carb-loaded croissants, doughnuts, breads and pastries. Feed your good bugs and not the bad ones.
Street food is safe to eat especially when following the ten rules above. Yes, getting sick always factors into my decision making, but when I stick with my rules, I never second guess myself. When traveling with others, I recommend you review the rules on how to eat street food without getting sick and help each other avoid accidental exposure. Travel with confidence and know that delicious street foods await smart travelers.