Southeast Asia is known for its ridiculously delicious and dirt cheap street food, but eating from a vendor on the side of the road can feel a little daunting if it’s your first visit. Here’s 10 quick tips for eating like a local in Southeast Asia!
1 – The dodgier the better. If it’s packed full of locals and looks a little chaotic, chances are, it’s the best of the best.2 – Choose where to eat by looking around and seeing what everyone has in front of them. Look for the longest line. That’s where you’ll find the good stuff.3 – Drinks are often sold separately so don’t be confused if one guy asks you what you want to eat, and then some girl turns up asking if you want a drink from her stand on the other side of the road. Just let them know what you want and they’ll sort it out from there.4 – No ice at all times. Most places you can’t drink the water without getting sick so make sure you specify you don’t want ice. It’s easy to forget and as the humidity quickly melts those iceblocks, you quickly kiss goodbye your next few days of travelling. Be careful with juices too – make sure they’re 100% fruit juice and not mixed with water. This doesn’t apply to all countries – Vietnam is completely safe as they use bottled water for everything, but make sure you check first.
5 – Order quickly. Make the decision of what you want to order before you’ve sat down. Everything moves quickly in SEA, and the guy that got you to sit down wants to take your order and move on to the next confused (and hungry) foreigner.6 – Avoid bain maries unless you can physically see the food steaming. We made this mistake once and ended up with a plateful of cold chicken and veggies (see below). Lucky it only cost us a grand total of $4 and we could just try something else down the road.7 – Soups are generally a safe option because they’re often made fresh. They’re a popular choice amongst locals and are always steaming hot.8 – Try new things. You didn’t come travelling to stay in your comfort zone, now did you? Step away from the sweet and sour chicken and fried rice and embrace laksa, pho and chicken feet and everything that you don’t understand – it’s probably the tastiest thing on the menu. Unless it’s this peeled coconut ball…9 – Remember tissues. Napkins can be hard to come by and that new dish you ordered may be a little spicier than you’re used to – running noses and watering eyes aren’t unusual. 10 – Carry probiotics with you at all times. You may think you have a stomach of steel but it’s a whole new level in Southeast Asia. You’ll probably want to keep those anti-diarrhoea tablets handy too.