Why Street Food and Traveling Go Hand-in-hand and What We Can Do To Improve Our Street Food-Eating Experience
There is so much more to street food than the above photos, but given my poor EQ, I usually gobble the food up before remembering to take a photo for your viewing pleasure (or salivation).
The prevalence of street food really enhances the travel experience in that it allows travelers to sample a country’s food fare at really budget-friendly prices.
Among my favorites in Thailand and Laos would be som tam (or papaya salad), which is always still spicy even when I ask for it not to be spicy (because they mix it in the same bowl they previously mixed a spicy som tam in), fresh and fried spring rolls…
…amazing samosas and lasagna in Pai, 15-25THB phad thai, 10,000 kip vegetarian buffets in Luang Prabang, among other things.
However, when I spent a few days shacked up my humble but beautifully situated bungalow in Pai, I couldn’t help but notice the amount of trash I was accumulating in my room from my street food purchases (that have sadly adopted more use of plastic and Styrofoam vs. the traditional banana leaves). It reminded me of an idea Joel, owner of Hariharalaya Retreat Centre, brought up about accumulating one’s rubbish for a week, just to see how much waste one produces.
This made me realize that we could all improve our street food-eating habits and reduce our waste production.
Whenever possible, if the food stall also provides a seating area and the use of plates for dining near their stall, avoid taking the food away. Use this time to really relish your cheap meal vs. walking around, looking at other trinkets or whatnot at the market, or use this time to people-watch vs. taking the food and holing up in your possibly sad hostel room.
Although there is more fun in using chopsticks, you could also opt to use the washable spoon and fork vs. the disposable chopsticks.
If you must take food away, do without the plastic bag around the Styrofoam container, reuse your disposable plate and utensils if food stall-hopping, or better yet, bring your own food container, I heard this is how people used to do this back in the day. 🙂
I also try to make it a point to bring a reusable water bottle wherever I go (a 700ml version of this Lock and Lock tumbler is my vessel of choice), to avoid wastage of plastic water bottles (I opt to refill this whenever dispensers are available at guesthouses or restaurants, even when plastic bottles are also given for free for a night’s stay). Apart from saving the planet, this practice saves you a lot of dough. Constantly buying bottles of water on a 2.5-month trip adds up!
Whenever purchasing sugar cane juice (yum!), fruit shakes or coffee, it would also be nice to have an extra bottle (for both hot and cold options) to store your drink. Though I usually just use my water bottle for my sugar cane juice purchases as well. 🙂
Oddly enough, despite my junk food junkie tendencies, my realization of the waste I accumulate from my chip frenzies have made me avoid it almost completely in favor of fruits or real food without disposable packaging.
It may not seem like much when you do this, but cumulatively, over time, I believe it does matter. And while you might seem like a little oddball to the vendor, or his/her customers, you’ll never know, your actions might trigger a witness (or a few) to eventually do the same. Knowing that I at least did what I could to reduce my waste makes me feel better about my street food consumption. I think it wouldn’t hurt to try.
Nagsisikap maging Miss Earth (LOL!),
P.S. This is also very relevant to daily life and not just while traveling. 🙂