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T+L's Global Guide to Street Food

January 14, 2013


The survivor’s manual to eating well (and more safely) off the beaten path. Plus: a city-by-city primer on the world’s best street-food enclaves. Reported by Jennifer Chen, Robyn Eckhardt, Bruno Fiuza, Nikki Goldstein, Stirling Kelso and Roshni Bajaj Sanghvi.

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What’s a trip to Saigon without a steaming bowl of pho eaten curbside, while perched on a tiny plastic stool? Or a stroll through Mexico City without a stop for tacos al pastor, dished up from a wheeled cart? For connoisseurs of local cuisine, streetside dining is a way to explore delicious foods, many of which are unavailable in restaurants, prepared by dedicated specialists. But it has its risks: of the 70 million Americans who travel abroad each year, it is approximated that 46 percent report varying degrees of food-or water-borne illness. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in fact, advises against consuming street food in developing countries. That’s why it’s as important as ever to be armed with some street-food savvy.



SINGAPORE
Risk factor:

The Scene
Strictly enforced regulations and centralized hawker areas make Singapore one of the safest places to eat in Asia. Grades based on cleanliness and hygiene (“A” to “D”) are posted prominently at every stall. Inspections take place annually, and stalls with lower grades are checked even more frequently.


Where to Go

Chinatown has some of the best hawker centers, including maxwell market. Old Airport road also has a high concentration of popular stalls.

What to Order
Hainanese chicken rice; chai tow kway (radish cake); Hokkien mee (stir-fried noodles); roti prata (flaky bread with curry); min chiang kueh (peanut pancake).

Local Take
Spotlight: Hainanese Chicken Rice
Street-food guide tony tan (betelbox.com) explains the secret to this deceptively simple-looking classic.

“the chicken in this dish, a staple of China’s Hainan Island, has a jelly-like layer of clear fat underneath the skin. this surprising texture is achieved by boiling the entire chicken in a stock and then plunging it into ice-cold water—a sharp change in temperature that turns the fat clear and gives the skin the right level of firmness. the aromatic rice is cooked with chicken fat, sesame oil and the fragrant herb pandan. Dip the chicken into the accompanying dark soy and chili sauces, and you’ll be eating just like a local.”


PENANG
Risk factor:

The Scene
This Malaysian island is a street-food paradise: authorities require the 7,000 licensed hawkers to attend a food-safety seminar and random health inspections are conducted daily. there’s even a municipal hotline for complaints about dodgy stalls.

Where to Go
Head for the ethnic enclaves of historic Georgetown, such as Little India
(centered around Lebuh pasar and the Kapitan Keling mosque) and Chulia and Kimberley streets, in Chinatown.

What to Order
Assam laksa (sour fish curry); muar chee (sticky rice cakes with ground
peanuts); cendol (rice noodles in coconut milk); mee rebus (egg noodles in thick gravy); murtarbak (crêpes with chicken or lamb); char kway teow (stir-fried wide rice noodles).

What to Avoid

Some stalls serve char kway teow made with cockles, whose freshness can be questionable.

Guide
Helen Ong (helenong.com) organizes street-food tours—on foot, rickshaw or car.

BANGKOK

Risk factor:

The Scene
An estimated 12,000 vendors operate in the Thai capital. Of those, only 8,400 are licensed with the city, which does twice-a-year spot checks for E. coli and salmonella, banned pesticides and additives. Look for stalls with a sticker of a smiling plate with the words clean food good taste!—a stamp of approval from health officials.

Where to Go
Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown; the soi 38 night market off Sukhumvit road; and near the Hua Lamphong MRT stop.



What to Order

Som tum gai yang (green papaya salad with chicken); khao mok gai (thai-style chicken biryani); bamee ped (egg noodles with roast duck); khanom bueang (crispy sweet pancakes).

What to Avoid
Som tum made with small black crabs, often taken from filthy canals. Only eat hoy tod (mussel omelettes) if they’re from a reputable, busy stall. If you order laarb (minced pork or chicken salad), make sure it’s fully cooked.


SAIGON
Risk Factor:

The Scene
Though streetside eating is a way of life here, enforcement is rather lax and outbreaks of food poisoning occur from time to time. be extra vigilant: choose popular, crowded stalls with high turnover.

Where to Go
Ben Thanh Market, in the central District 1, or less touristy Binh Tay Market, in Chinatown.



What to Order

Pho (beef-and–rice noodle soup); bánh mì (pâté-and-meat sandwiches); bánh bao (meat-stuffed buns); bun thit nuong (grilled pork with rice vermicelli); bo la lot (grilled beef in betel leaves).

What to Avoid
Nem chua, or fermented, pickled pork sausage, often served raw. Also be wary of foods made with ice.

Guide
Back of the Bike Tours (backofthebiketours.com) arranges street-food tours by scooter.

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