One of my favorite things to do when traveling is to eat street food. It’s delicious. It’s cheap. What’s not to love?
Well, some might not “love” getting a case of Montezuma’s revenge (aka traveler’s diarrhea) or food poisoning. You’ve got to be careful out there. No one wants their trip ruined by gastrointestinal issues.
In a place like Mexico City, there are TONS of street food vendors selling everything from fresh fruit smoothies to elote to tacos and everything in between. It can be tricky picking a place that is both delicious AND safe.
In all of my travels, I’ve never gotten sick. I credit this to these basic rules I use when deciding which stands to patronize.
1. Only eat at places with a line.
A long line of customers tells me that the food is good AND safe. If people regularly got sick there’s no way they’d have so much return business.
2. Eat where locals eat.
Maybe I’m a street food snob (is that even a thing?) but if only foreigners are patronizing a spot, it’s probably not the place for me. I get suspicious of any street food vendor where locals won’t eat.
3. Pay attention to how food is prepared.
Since I only eat at places with a line I have time to watch how they prepare food while I’m waiting. Is there access to water? Are they making an effort to not handle money with the hand they use to make the food? Are they making an effort to limit cross-contamination? No place will be perfect so you have to know just how much of an ew-factor you’re comfortable with.
4. Be leary of pre-cooked food.
Time of day is very important. I make a point not to eat street tacos too early because I’m suspicious that the meat might be from the night before. Unless the stand has a refrigerator or I can be reasonably sure that the food was cooked recently, I will pass.
5. Open your own drinks.
There’s a scene in Slumdog Millionaire where they fill water bottles with tap water and glue the tops on. Ever since I saw that I make a point to look at the seal on any bottled drink I purchase.
Bonus Option: Street Food Tours
Now if you’d love to try street food but don’t want to fly solo, a street food tour might be a good option for you. It’s a great way to explore and experiment with fewer worries about becoming ill.
Sounds great, doesn’t it? However, there is a catch – the price. DIYing your street food experience is usually incredibly cheap. But when you rely on someone else’s expertise and research you’re going to have to pay a premium.
All street food meccas have tour options. Below are two that I’d recommend in Mexico City.
The Curious Mexican – Tours are led by Anais, a former food industry professional who graduated from one of Mexico’s most prestigious gastronomy universities.
La Milpa Food Tours – Tours are led by Liz and Lydia, food bloggers based in Mexico City.
Questions? Thoughts? Let me know in the comment section below!