My Thoughts on Street Food

If you say you’re going to Southeast Asia, you are guaranteed to hear about the street food. It’s so cheap! It’s part of the experience! You have to try it!

No. No, I don’t.

Street food is pretty much everything I DON’T want in food.

It’s been sitting out.

I don’t want to eat food that just chillin’ in the insane heat and humidity of SE Asia. It’s not infrequent that the streets smell of rotting trash, not to mention the exhaust fumes from all of the cars and motorbikes just inches from the street food carts. I do not want to eat anything that’s been marinating in this mess.

I like my food fresh and clean. I spent many years refusing to even eat leftovers because they were ‘old.’ I obsessively cut off any piece of produce that isn’t perfect (I don’t do spots, mushy bits, or dirty peels…no, thank you). I don’t even like food that’s been left on the stove for more than a few minutes and it takes a lot of self-control for me to wait for large groups to be served in restaurants before eating (yes, I know it’s polite, which is why I do it…but I don’t like it).

I even avoid most of the fruit stands. I don’t want to eat fruit that’s been pre-cut, then left to dry out and get nibbled on by flies. If I can buy fruit whole and deal with it myself, then maybe, but otherwise no.

Most street food features some kind of dead animal.

And not in the pre-cooked, dissociate-the-meat-from-its-previous-living-being form. No. It’s often in the raw-carcass-hanging-on-a-meat-hook form. It’s gross and upsetting and I don’t want anything to do with that. I don’t want to be around it and I don’t even want to try to get something vegan cooked in the same space as raw meat (yes, I know this probably happens in many restaurant kitchens, but having it so up close and personal adds a level of grossness for me).

It’s difficult to communicate dietary preferences.

It can be very difficult to request vegan food at street food stalls. English isn’t as common as in tourist-focused restaurants, it’s loud, the cooks are in a hurry, and many don’t understand what vegan means (even if you explain, many people just don’t understand the finer points, like leaving out fish sauce). It’s hard to confirm whether or not you’re being understood, as humans have a tendency to just agree when there’s a translation issue (I catch myself doing the same thing, just saying ‘yes’ when I have no idea what’s going on). I like to be sure about what I’m eating, and I can’t get that assurance with street food. It’s not just a matter of ‘does it taste good’ or not, it’s a matter of principles and ethics.

It’s crowded.

I hate crowds. They make me anxious. I hate to feel like I’m in someone’s way and I get easily annoyed when other people are in my way. Street food is squeezed onto sidewalks, which are already often being used as secondary streets by impatient motorbike drivers, and are hard enough just to walk on. To have to stand in line in that crowd, try to order as people are bumping into you on their way past, and then find a place to squeeze in and eat, usually on absurdly small plastic furniture, is pretty much a nightmare for me.

I don’t feel bad about not eating street food. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything or that I have to do it to ‘truly experience a place.’ I know that some people are really into it, but it is absolutely not for me.

Does it mean I spend more money on food when I travel? Yes. But I also spend more money on food than the average person at home too. High quality, nutritious food is important to me and I’m willing to pay for it. Plus it means I get to try some great vegetarian and vegan restaurants, supporting companies that share my values.

Just look at all this great vegan food I found in Hoi An, Vietnam!


3 thoughts on “My Thoughts on Street Food

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