I was on my bed in Thailand, writhing in pain.
It was the worst stomach pain I’d ever had in my life.
I literally couldn’t even lie still because the pain was so intense.
At that moment if you had asked me if I wanted to die, I would have probably said yes!
But before you swear to never eat street food in Thailand, listen to this:
This stomach bug I got was not from street food in Thailand.
It was from my own cooking!
I got the worst food poisoning of my life from my own poor cooking of chicken!
I remember on this particular occasion I hadn’t bought any street food for many days, and I got sick soon after cooking and eating my chicken, so I knew that was the culprit.
So this brings me to the topic of this blog post.
“Is it safe to eat street food in Thailand?”
And my answer is…yes!
As someone who’s lived in Thailand for over 6 years, I’ve eaten a lot of street food here. And in 99% of those cases, I didn’t feel any negative effects from the street food (besides it being too spicy for my foreign tongue!)
Now I can’t guarantee that you will never get diarrhea or an upset stomach from eating street food in Thailand.
Because after all, you can get food poisoning from any food, whether it’s an upscale restaurant, a fast food chain, home cooking, or even food on the street.
But, in my own experience, street food in Thailand is nothing to worry about. I certainly don’t have any hesitation or fear to eat street food here.
But there are few things you can do to lower the chances of getting food poisoning or stomach issues in Thailand.
Tip #1: Go to street food vendors that have lots of customers
Generally speaking, if you see lots of customers (especially Thai customers) that means the seller is probably providing quality food. I mean, would anybody come back if the food was making them sick? Of course not.
If a street food seller is packed with customers, it’s probably because they are serving great food.
Plus, lots of customers generally means there is more of a turn over of ingredients, so there isn’t much of a chance for the food to sit around and start to go bad.
On the flip side of that, if you are in a busy street market and you notice a particular stall is being passed up by customers, there may be a reason for that. So be cautious.
Tip #2: Avoid overly spicy food if you can’t tolerate it
This tip doesn’t actually relate to food poisoning or unclean food, but I’ve noticed I often get an upset stomach in Thailand if I try to eat food that is too spicy. Nothing serious, just slight intestinal discomfort that lasts for a few hours. But enough to regret having eaten that food.
And I realized it was kind of an ego thing for me.
I was trying to prove I can “eat like the Thai’s do” by getting food just as spicy as them.
But not everyone’s digestive system can tolerate spices in the same way.
So if you’re like me, please know your limits and request your food to be “pet noi” which basically means, only a little spicy.
Don’t succumb to the pressure when people try to shame you for not eating it the “authentic way” which often means insanely spicy.
Just as some people can’t eat dairy products without it wrecking their digestive system, some people can’t eat overly spicy food either.
Know your body and eat accordingly.
Tip #3: Buy food that is hot
Another way to lower your chance of getting sick from Thai street food is to go to the sellers who cook it directly in front of you.
That means you are getting food that wasn’t cooked potentially hours ago. You can watch them grill or cook the food right in front of you.
If you are able to eat the food while it’s still piping hot, that lowers the chance of bacteria accumulating on food.
So if you are particularly worried about your stomach, avoid the street food sellers who have already cooked the food in advance and have it already placed in the packaging.
Only go to the sellers who will prepare it in front of you.
Tip #4: Drink bottled water only
Coming from America, I was used to having clean, safe-to-drink tap water. Pretty much any tap would be guaranteed to be safe to drink. That’s not the case in Thailand.
Nobody here drinks the tap water.
There are machines on the street where you can bring your own jug and fill it up with drinking water, but I personally wouldn’t recommend them because there’s no way of knowing how often (if ever) the filters get cleaned.
So if you are living in Thailand, drinking bottled water is a necessity.
Tip #5: Use common sense
If something seems off, don’t eat it just because you paid for it or you’re afraid of making the food seller unhappy.
It’s only happened to me on one occasion, but I ordered some fried chicken from a street vendor and it had a bit of an off smell. It wasn’t overpowering, but there was definitely a slight smell to it that didn’t seem right.
So after one bite, both my girlfriend and I decided not to eat any more of the chicken.
I hate wasting food, but I ended up trashing it.
Maybe we would have been fine after eating it, but there was no point risking getting ill just because we didn’t want to let a little bit of money and food go to waste.
So use your best judgment and if something seems off, just trash the food and get something else.
So all in all, I’d say if you follow the tips above, you have little to fear when eating street food in Thailand.
That’s not to say you still can’t get sick, but in my 6+ years here, I never got seriously ill from eating street food.
My worst bouts of food poisoning in Thailand came once from my own cooking, and once from a proper sit down restaurant! But at least in my experience, I’ve not experienced anything major from street food.
But everyone’s stomach is different and if you are new to Thailand maybe you want to work up slowly to give yourself a chance to acclimate to the new bacteria and environment.
If you want to learn Thai, ThaiPod101 is a great resource to get you started. They give you a bunch of free resources to level up your Thai language skills in the shortest time possible. If you are interested, please click the link below:
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