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How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food

San Francisco...
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How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food
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Hello,

I'm planning to go to Hanoi, and one of the things I look forward to is trying all the food, especially the street food. However, I'm concerned about the quality of the food, and I don't want to get sick. (Happened to me before, and those times were not pleasant experiences.) How can I (possibly) ensure that the food I eat will be fine and I won't get sick/food poisoning? Is it just look where the locals eat? Eat at places where the prices are a little higher, ensuring higher quality? Places that are in English, what? Just ask the hotel or a local where to eat? Any feedback would be great. Thanks.

Edited: 1:49 pm, July 05, 2015
Viet Spring Rolls
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Nha Trang, Vietnam
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1. Re: How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food
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Short answer: you can't be sure. But going where there are many people and a high turnover is a good start. High prices are no guarantee. It doesn't even guarantee good food. Asking locals is often a good idea. Even if it means dining on top of earlier guests garbage still littered on the floor.

Hanoi, Vietnam
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2. Re: How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food
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Quite a dilemma, no?

Nothing is better than real street foods, well, which are just like you said, can't be too sure that you won't get food poisoning. Even I' ve lived here for years I still sometimes get sick. But if you want the real taste, you have to take the risk and if anything, most of the time you'll be alright.

For higher priced and tourist oriented places, the taste won't be the same.

Hanoi, Vietnam
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3. Re: How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food
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No, you can't be sure anywhere, but I've never had any problems at all in 7 trips (I travel in spring and fall), and food is very important to me. I'm just very careful where I eat. It's not all that hard to tell the good from the bad in my opinion. The bad places will have few if any customers vs the opposite for the good places. There is more of a problem in the hot months, but you could increase the good bacteria in your gut. I would think shellfish would be problematic in the heat.

Llanbrynmair...
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4. Re: How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food
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As others have already said, eat at places - whether street food or small eateries - with a large clientele of local people and the associated rapid turnover of freshly purchased ingredients.

I've been visiting Vietnam for many years and have yet to become ill from anything I've consumed. However during my many decades of travelling in non-touristy places firmly off the beaten track in many parts of the world it soon became obvious that travellers from over-sanitised environments succumbed quickly to gastric problems. At the top of the list were ... yes, Americans.

Apropos of that, in post no. 3 daawgon makes a very valid point about building up beneficial gut bacteria. Also, you should never confuse bowel looseness with food poisoning, because all too often it is no such thing. Rather, it's commonly a change of diet that's the culprit, and that can be easily remedied by staying close to the bathroom for a day or two and eating nothing at all, but drinking copious amounts of bottled water.

That said, if diarrhoea is accompanied by fever and nausea or worse, including delirium, medical help should be sought immediately. And yes, I do have experience of that too, but many decades ago in Morocco rather than Vietnam.

So heed the advice you've been given above, and don't let fear prevent you from enjoying street food or food in restaurants for local people. Indeed, because of the lack of official regulation and inspection, poor kitchen hygiene and ingredients not being freshly purchased every day because they can be and are taken from and replaced in fridges for days on end, you will have a far greater chance of contracting food poisoning in an upmarket restaurant or 5* hotel.

Sydney, Australia
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5. Re: How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food
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Its been well documented that its most probably safer eating street food that's been freshly cooked in front of you with a high turnover than food that's been prepared well in advance, and been sitting on a bench in an unseen kitchen for several hours. A higher cost should not be associated with a higher standard of hygiene. The above advice is great advice. I can only add that I think its essential to carry a small plastic bottle of hand anti bacterial gel/liquid or wipes and get in the habit of using them often, especially after handling money and always before handling food whilst eating. Build up good gut bacteria to improve digestion and immunity a week before leaving (Yakult/probiotoc yogurts etc). Most of the time its the sudden change in diet. If you want to eat spicy food and are not used to such foods, try eating similar foods a few weeks before leaving so your body can adjust accordingly.

San Francisco...
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6. Re: How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food
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Thanks for your responses, Jim B, KAL4416, daawgon, CreakingBones, and bigdazza67.

Jim B, at least for the street food, I don't mind the lack of ambiance, or the leftovers from the previous guests, as long as I can reasonably avoid getting it on me.

daawagon, I'll be going at the end of the year, so I'm assuming it'll be colder, and less likely things will go bad fast. I wasn't thinking shellfish. Is there a signature shellfish dish in Hanoi?

daawagon, CreakingBones, and bigdazza67, that totally makes sense to find places that have many customers, which means a high turnover of food. I was thinking many customers meant yummy food, but your points make total sense. I'll also try the probiotic yogurt thing, anything that can help my stomach adjust faster. I guess for me, it'll be a few days or a week of eating pho and other Southeast Asian foods prior to my trip (even though I doubt the food here in America (even in San Francisco) can truly replicate the food in Vietnam and Southeast Asia).

Any tips on drinks (excluding water)?

Raleigh, North...
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7. Re: How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food
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Hi I just got back last night. Before we left and while we were there we took probiotic pills the strongest strength. Also, we ate at food stalls all over and drank beer with ice in it and icy drinks, but ice with holes in it. We also ate fresh herbs in our food and did not get sick. Of course we may be lucky. Only drank bottled water. One suggestion is to take a food tour. We did in Hanoi and Hoi An. It's a great way to help you get acquainted with street food and what to look for in terms of what and where to eat. One last tip we were told by our food tour guide - if you see a stall with lots of napkins on the ground it's a sign of a good spot because that means they have been so busy they haven't had time to clean them up yet.

Raleigh, North...
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8. Re: How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food
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Drinks:

Bia hoi- fresh beer

Egg coffee in Hanoi

Sugar cane juice tried but didn't like

Fresh coconut water

Coconut coffee smoothie from Cong caphe in Hanoi

Raleigh, North...
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293 posts
44 reviews
19 helpful votes
9. Re: How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food
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Hi I just got back last night. Before we left and while we were there we took probiotic pills the strongest strength. Also, we ate at food stalls all over and drank beer with ice in it and icy drinks, but ice with holes in it. We also ate fresh herbs in our food and did not get sick. Of course we may be lucky. Only drank bottled water. One suggestion is to take a food tour. We did in Hanoi and Hoi An. It's a great way to help you get acquainted with street food and what to look for in terms of what and where to eat. One last tip we were told by our food tour guide - if you see a stall with lots of napkins on the ground it's a sign of a good spot because that means they have been so busy they haven't had time to clean them up yet.

Hanoi, Vietnam
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10. Re: How to Judge the Quality of the Food/Restaurant/Street Food
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RS3Sport - The Vietnamese truly love their seafood, and shellfish especially. If you want the best of shellfish take this hint: Hai San Gia Dinh Restaurant at 94 Tran Vu, Hanoi (southeastern shore of Truc Bach Lake). This is a tiny place without a menu - CreakingBones recommends that you write down the items you want in Vietnamese (get help from your hotel clerk) because no one speaks English here, but this is the freshest you will find in Hanoi. The tiger prawns are huge and come fresh off the grill (the Vietnamese use a wasabi/salt dip), and I love the tiny clams. Chances are you won't go for the snails (too chewy for me!) The drink here is good VN beer, and after dinner you might like to walk back to the Old Quarter (an interesting walk, but bring a map!)

I personally really like the Indian food in Vietnam since I can't get enough spice (Vietnamese can be rather bland at times).

I've had some really good pho on Jones Street, San Francisco, but not recently (also very good banh mi in the Tenderloin!)

Edited: 12:38 pm, July 07, 2015