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How To Buy Street Food In Asia
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How To Buy Street Food In Asia

Picture of Anne Twombly
Updated: 30 November 2016
When finding yourself in a new place, sometimes understanding a menu poses a far greater challenge than getting to the sights. Featured here are some flexible strategies applicable across Asia for skipping the menu and eating better than ever before.
Mango Shaved Ice, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal
Mango Shaved Ice, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal

Rely on Your Eyes

While traveling through a country where reading menus poses a challenge, try buying from street vendors instead of restaurants. Street vendors have the benefit of having exposed kitchens and preparation tables, with all laid bare for the hungry traveler to see. This includes the ingredients, fully prepared dishes, and the sanitation standards. Trust what you find visually appealing. Order by indicating that you want what the cook is preparing, or ask the cook to show you on the menu the delicious dish your neighbor is enjoying.

A Street Vendor Selling Breakfast, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal
A Street Vendor Selling Breakfast, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal

Ask Questions

Eating is a social endeavor. Even if you’re a dinner party of one, the cook is still there with you. When it comes to food, never be shy. It is something that everyone partakes in and, thus, has their own wisdom to share. Ask her what she recommends, what is in a particular dish, or what the most popular item is on the menu. Vegetarian and vegan travelers — in spite of all the other food-related difficulties they face — sometimes make best friends with the cooks. This is because they’re always talking with them, curious and genuinely interested in hearing from the source how each dish is prepared.

Fresh Oysters, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal
Fresh Oysters, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal

Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away

You are looking for food to please your own tastebuds, so be confident when walking up to a street vendor to see what they have to offer. Look closely and ask your questions, but if what you find is unappealing, feel free to walk away. Just because you have showed interest in a vendor’s dishes, it doesn’t mean you are obligated to buy. Browse from vendor to vendor until you see something your stomach would delight in eating.

A Fruit Juice Stand, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal
A Fruit Juice Stand, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal

Get Samples

If you’re interested in a dish but are not convinced yet, ask for a sample. If the food is already prepared, and you’re fairly certain you’ll buy something from this vendor (even if it’s not what you sampled), you may succeed in scoring a bite to narrow down your dinner options.

Shaved Ice with Jelly, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal
Shaved Ice with Jelly, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal

Use Technology

Asia, in particular, has an ever-growing supply of apps to help choose your next delicacy. If you can read but require the luxury of reading slowly, try downloading an app like Dianping. Dianping is a customer-based review platform for restaurants. The multiple filters can help you find food options within a certain distance, help you sift through different types of food, price ranges, and alert you to what locations are trending.

Stinky Tofu, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal
Stinky Tofu, Tainan | Courtesy of Avery Segal

Bring a Local Friend

Best of all, invite a local friend for a food adventure. Not only will they know new and interesting places to find dinner, they are privy to the undocumented reputations of local food establishments. There is a good chance they will know which restaurant has been in the same family for three generations, or the best 24-hour fried dumpling place hidden just down the street.