Be street food-smart

High on Thai street food: Street foods are delicious tourist attractions in Thailand.

Be street food-smart

CONSUMERLINE - Ching M. Alano (The Philippine Star) - September 25, 2017 - 4:00pm

We’ve all probably had our share of street food. Like those ubiquitous fish balls strung on wooden sticks and dipped in a piquant sauce. Or those marinated chicken intestines (for those with the guts and a strong gut) or isaw, popularly known as IUD. Or those grilled chicken feet (popularly known as adidas), perhaps the most iconic of our street food staples. Or those breaded kwek kwek balls (quail eggs coated with an orange batter and then deep-fried) eaten with lots of vinegar that will leave you quacking for more. And a lot more to dazzle the taste buds.

Last year, I elbowed my way through the crowded SM Hypermarket Street Food Festival at SM Mall of Asia and sampled bits and pieces of the street foods on sale. Guests ate their way through the 40 booths serving assorted, creative local street foods as well as international street foods such as Vietnamese spring rolls, Mexican tacos and nachos, American burgers and pancakes, and Middle Eastern shawarma. This year, SM Hypermarket brings back its street food fest with more enticing offerings. Launched last August, the festival makes its way to SM Fairview on Oct. 6 and then goes back to SM MOA on Oct. 20.

Of course, while you may cringe at the fact that street food has a dubious reputation, guests at the SM Street Food Festival know for sure that the food operator observes only the strictest standards of food transport, safekeeping, preparation, and handling. 

“A way to experience and enjoy firsthand the country’s culture is to partake of the local cuisine,” says Angelo Songco of Healthy Eats that advocates healthy, practical eating for all.  “However, depending on the constitution of one’s digestive system, it might not be wise to just sample every raw, fried, grilled, boiled, and steamed dish you see being peddled on the streets.”

He adds, “I think I have a strong gut but still, I was quite conscious about the street food I saw in Chiang Mai and Bangkok which I visited recently.  In fact, during the first few days, my tummy wasn’t feeling all that dandy when I was just drinking bottled water and eating in restaurants included in the day tours that I joined.”

Eat’s back: SM Hypermarket brings back its popular Street Food Festival — at SM Fairview on Oct. 6 and SM Mall of Asia on Oct. 20.

In between bites of his favorite street food, Angelo gathered these street food safety tips for consumers (whether here or traveling abroad):

Look for vendors with a source of flowing (faucet) water. At least this assures you that the dishes, utensils are washed in running water. 

Go for stalls that serve hot, freshly prepared food. The hotter, the better (hot here does not mean spicy).  Perhaps think twice about buying those yummy-looking sushi and sashimi packed in plastic takeout containers.  Save that for a trip to Japan.

• Popular, long lines mean lots of satisfied and/or repeat customers. This is an indication that no one has issues with the food there.

• Wash your hands or use a sanitizer before digging in. The diarrhea-causing microbes might actually be on your hands and not in the food.

• Beverages — for smoothies and shakes, check what the ice looks like. Tube ice most likely, at least, comes from a supplier using clean water versus homemade ice using water from a questionable source.  Then again, read up online if the city you are in has potable tap water and take it from there.  Do not scrimp on bottled water.  Or at least boil your water in a kettle, cool, and then transfer to your container.

• Dessert?  Buy fresh fruit! And wash well in clean water.  Avoid creamy, custardy desserts with dairy bought from street hawkers.

• Choose a stall serving just one of a few dishes. Most likely, the ingredients are fresher and have not been stored for a long time.

But of course, so Angelo adds, you must follow your instinct — certainly, you wouldn’t buy from a stall that’s located beside a highway or a construction site where the food is exposed to pollution and dust.  Neither would you eat food from a roadside eatery with uncovered food at room temperature for the whole day.

Lastly, seniors take note: If you are prone to indigestion, food-borne illnesses or have health conditions, better steer clear of street fare and stay safe.

Again, if you’re still iffy about following Angelo’s tips and you don’t want to be sorry, he says you can still enjoy street food in the air-conditioned comfort of a shopping mall food court or restaurant, most of which serve their take on street food with all the conveniences of seating, silverware, beverages galore, etc.

Sooner or later, you’ll surely be street food-smart!

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