Snack Alleys in China and Street Food Safety

06 March 2013

I'd consider myself on the adventurous side when it comes to traveling. I carpool with strangers, steal oranges growing along the street, and often travel alone so eating a little bit of street food can't be too dangerous, right? I mean, it's part of experiencing the culture and for those prices (a filling meal can equate to about 1 USD), I'll take my chances.

And during my summer in China I did end up getting food poisoning but it wasn't from street food! The only time I (or any of my fellow interns) got sick was when we ate at McDonald's or KFC! I'm not sure if it was due to food contamination or the ice from our drinks but for a whole week straight I had to run to the bathroom within a half-hour of eating. It was horrible! To avoid getting sick during your travels through China, here are some tips when it comes to eating street food:

A typical snack alley
Take a moment to observe
So, the alley above looks kinda shady, right? Well, don't be so quick to judge. Though it may looks dirty at first glance, take your time to walk through and look at each stall individually. Is the food sitting out or contained? Does the cook seem to be employing general sanitation techniques? Follow your gut and don't eat from anywhere that wouldn't prepare food in the same way you would at home. 

Note: Make sure too look at what oil the person is using to cook. If it looks dirty it may be gutter oil, which is exactly what it sounds like. Do not eat this. You will get very sick.

Muslim-Chinese street food was some of my favorite eats!
Only eat thoroughly cooked food
As a foreigner, your body just isn't used to some of the things that native Chinese consume every day. For this reason you should avoid anything raw and stick with well cooked foods. If you eat fruit, peel it first (even the Chinese do this so you should definitely follow suit). Also, another thing that should be noted is that you cannot drink tap water in China. If you really must use tap water, it should be boiled for several minutes before consumed.

Note: Only buy bottled water from large, established stores. Smaller vendors will some times collect old bottles, fill them with tap water, reseal them, and sell them. Eww.

Hu Bu Xiang, the most popular snack alley in Wuhan
Follow the crowds
One of the best ways to know if a place is safe is to see if it's crowded with locals. That probably means the food is safe and delicious. While there are many small, neighborhood snack streets, every city has at least one principle snack street that is packed with reputable food. These are a great experience in and of themselves and a fun way to spend an evening!

Peking duck, fruit, and spicy beef
But in the end, it's your personal choice! Street food is cheap and yummy but if you'd rather play it safe(er) there are plenty of traditional, sit down restaurants on every street. The food is good and they're also extremely well priced. 

I personally loved partaking in street food as an act of experiencing the culture. You gotta be a little daring some times!

Have you ever had street food while traveling? Do you have any safety tips?

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  1. Nice post. I have never been there, but definitely would love to visit one time;)x

    1. Yes, totally worth a visit! China is so fun!

  2. When comes to food, China can be really tricky though ... I am experiencing myself so I couldn't agree more with your observations :)

  3. Tasting street food is amazing i think wherever you go street food of any place is always famous.