Every country has different varieties of food and culture. They cook by using their techniques and skills to serve the food in traditional or modern ways to their customers. However, mostly because of the uneducated workers, things may have done wrong, and the food they serve harms the customers. A traveler must be able to know the basic rules of eating outside
The food you see at the streets or in a restaurant may look very yummy, but please remind yourself that you can get serious trouble after you eat.
To prevent these severe troubles, I created my self a “Choosing where to eat” Guide which I want to share it with you.
There are a couple of Steps that you need to observe and measure in a restaurant setting when you decide where to eat. These observations and measurements are mostly related to our Five sense. I will also give some tips about some basics turning around these five senses.
You are a traveler, and you are very new to the culture of the country you are visiting. You may have serious trouble if you make a mistake related to food. When you enter a restaurant or just at the street in front of a food cart, you definitely try to understand what’s going on in the place. Here is a 2 step guide for you:)
Odor or smell: Think about you had a big party, invited 20 or more friends to your small flat, you had lots of beers, some people smoked and you cooked fried fish, or you made a barbecue at your balcony or garden close to the windows. The beer has spilled in the different places of your apartment. You wake up in the morning start to clean. The smell or the odor in the house would be as same as in a restaurant in the morning or just after the dinner service. It smells terrible, isn’t it?:) It’s a mixture of alcohol, frying oil, barbecued leftovers and cigarettes. NOW think about the same odor or the smell when you enter a restaurant or in front of any street food stand. If you have the same terrible lousy smelling, Beware of this place. How you clean and get rid of the bad smell in your apartment is almost the same thing that a restaurant workers need to do. If I sense that type of Odors or the stinking environment, I would never go to the next steps.
Observing Practices of the workers: Some of us who worked at the restaurants as a server or cook would directly understand what I am talking about in this step. The others who do not have experience in that field should start to practice and observe the people who are working at the restaurant or any food establishment. In the food service industry, most of the mistake related to hygiene and food poisoning is related to people, that means workers (cooks, dishwashers, and waiters). The basic rule is to observe their tidiness, the way their handling with hot and cold food, the way they serve, the way they dress and the way they behave themselves. Here are some rules on how to observe service workers, food, and materials.
*** All workers should have should dress to the standards of hygiene and cleaning. Clean cut nails, Clean cut hair, if the hair is long, have a bandana or hat to cover, clean, stainless dress, no smelly body or mouth. Look at a server for only 3 seconds as if he/she fits the %80 of the standards, you are good to go.
***When you are at the street check the food stalls, you see and observe the kitchen (cook) and seating or area (servers) very quickly. However, in a restaurant where they mostly have a separate kitchen, it’s hard to observe. What you have to do is sit, check the menu and with a reason to go to the restroom or toilet, go into the kitchen. Most of the cooks hate that because they feel like a 15 years old young girl who has busted by her father while kissing her boyfriend:)) but you have a reason that you are trying to find the restroom. At that moment you have 3 to 5 seconds to check the tidiness and the way they handle with food, the way they dress and take care of their hygiene. Both at the street or in a restaurant kitchen different departments working together to plate different dishes. In a food stall at the road-side mostly one to two people handle all the food but in a restaurant, more people working related to the size and covers. Tidiness means all the ingredients they are using must be in separate cups (plastic or steel does not matter that much). If you see any sloppiness such as the tomato sauce is all over the counter, there are cheese leftovers in the pepper cup or worse piece of dried penne pasta at the working table 🙂 That means the cook is not working in a standard way and he is likely to make a lot of mistakes related to sloppiness or tidiness. At the street food stand, I usually wait and observe how the food is prepared and cooked at first, how the cook is handling the raw product, how he stores them.
In this photo you see some hot dishes in a “Bain Marie style” hot display, You basically need to check the temperature of the products by touching the edge of the pans. If you feel the pain in 3 seconds and take your hands of the pan, You are good to go. However if it’s more then 3 seconds, you are right to run out of the restaurant:)
***Storing food products is a leading problem that most of professionals and non-professionals make a lot of mistakes. Small mistakes can be solved by cooking the product, but one big mistake can cause a lot of problems. Food should not be handled between 4 Celsius degrees and 60 Celsius degrees (40-140 Fahrenheit, I am not sure about Calvin :)). Most of the common mistakes are made by not obeying this universal rule. Think about raw sausages on the street, and if they are not stored on ice before cooking, it may harm your stomach after cooked and eaten. This action has a simple reaction which lets you go to toilette every 15 mins with lots of stomach and ass pain which is an easy-relief part of the story, the harder side goes up to 10-15 days hospitalization or hepatitis and so on.
In this Photo, you see all the products stored on ice. Even it’s a small food cart along the street; the cook knows how to save the products. Whether you like to eat these fish balls or not (I don’t like the taste), it is stored correctly on ice.
***Nobody wants to loose products, either perished or rotten, in a restaurant setting. There are some techniques, mostly street cooks use in these situations are called marination, coating, breading to cover the color of the perished product. If it’s applied to the natural product, those are really effective techniques, let adding different flavors to food item makes it yummy, however, if it is used in the rotten food , it may have horrible results such as ending up in a hospital again. So standard rule is that when you smell the finished product, especially the ones have high protein in it and you feel something suspicious in your mind, just DO NOT EAT it.
Here is a photo as an example of a street food stall. There are marinated fish at the counters, all of them are staled. To make them look good or fancy, He used Red coloring agent and lots of spices:) One can not cure a staled product by marinating or coating. Even if you do not understand it at first sight, you should be careful about the smell before eating it!!!
Mise En Place (Tidiness) in operation: This French phrase may not mean anything to you, but in real life it directly effects all food products, preparation, and cooking. When you choose your food, one of the most fundamental observation is the tidiness of the operation. Even a small food counter needs a maintenance about putting the ingredients all together in order. Spices in small cups or jars, pans, and utensils clean and hanging on the edge of the counter, Raw meat stored on a bed of ice or display: nicely cut, looking appetizing. Every product must be on different cups or storage pans.
Both two photos are from the same restaurant; This is almost the perfect “Mise En Place.” Everything is in order, Look at all the green products stored on the cold counter, Look at how clean the cooking area, look at the dresses, faces, and practices of the cooks. In this restaurant, you can eat without fear. That’s what I am talking about:)
Here is another photo of the streets, As you see they use all their knowledge to store the products in different containers or plastic bags. In that kind of establishment, you have to observe the cooks practices. By the way, their noodle soup was delicious 🙂 Of course they may have financial difficulties comparing with a restaurant, but this food stall is doing it’s best to serve hygienic food.
Practical knowledge of the cook: You are familiar with your moms or grandmothers cooking, you need to make a comparison with your understanding and the cook’s practices regarding cooking style. The cook may keep using the same cooking utensil in every dish: This is nasty and makes unwanted flavor come together in your dish. Nobody wants an old egg smell in his tea or coffee. The primary reason for these smell is that the cook used the coffee cup to mix the eggs to prepare an omelet before. Whatever you do the smell of eggs cannot be cleaned from that coffee cup. Some cooks use their fingers to taste the food or understanding the temperature, they dip their finger in the food item and usually they lick their finger afterward, This is also very nasty action related with the food poisoning. This action needs different plastic spoons each time.
Different Ingredients: There will be lots of different cultures at the destination you are going to choose. The way they cook and the ingredients they use are probably not as same as in your home country. Through the significant research, it’s been implied that people may get harm or get weight when they start to change their traditional diet. Let me give you a couple of examples of this subject. Greek and Italian people mostly cook with olive oil, they have a simple cuisine related to vegetables and the seafood caught from Mediterranean sea. When they travel to southeast Asia, it is self-evident that they may not like the cuisine because of the fish caught from the ocean and the MSG related sauces such as fish or shrimp sauce. Another example is that when Nordic people travel to India, because of hot and spicy food, they may have hard times to find the appropriate food for their traditional palate. It may harm their stomach because of hot and sour food. However, having a proper research about the food establishments before the travel, reading reviews of restaurants from various travel advising websites would be a great help to solve this problem.
People usually would like to try the new tastes when they are traveling abroad. One of the main ingredients of South East Asia is a fish sauce or shrimp sauce. Any American Country born or European born person would hate that smell on the streets of Bangkok, they taste the famous spicy Papaya salad, and they puke out. All they have to do is ask the waiter that they don’t want fish sauce in their Papaya salad.
Religious Effect: There are too many religions, and they have different food habits related to each prayer. For example, it’s tough to find a medium-rare beef in Muslim countries because due to the mis-information related to the meats red color and red juice is related blood. Muslims are not allowed to eat blood. Another example is that you may not have a chance to find Pork products in Israel or any Muslim country because Pork is not allowed in Kosher or Halal diets.
Cooking style: Some countries cook food more than the others. That is the fact that you should consider when choosing your food. Southeast Asian Countries like to cook vegetables just a couple of seconds, the way their palate works on that way. So if you want over-cooked vegetables like in India, Most of the middle east, you may have hard times to get used to eating in Thailand or Japan.
Cooking technique: One of the basics in cooking is that you give a color to a solid product (like meat) by using pans, grill, barbecue or anything directly touches the food, and you cook inside of the product in the oven. This basic technique is used in most of the European and American countries. However when you go to the Asian countries, you may end up eating overcooked products because they are not aware what is the usage of the oven, maybe oven has not still been invented yet.
In the second step, mostly you may eat the food, but it may not be the food that you are looking or dreaming of 🙂
My standard rule is that; Analyze all the steps in your mind when you want to eat in a foreign country.
As you see there are two steppes; first is related to hygiene and safety, second is related to culture and quality.
I will try to write more and put more photos from time to time. Please send me your feedback:)
Have a nice and safe meal:)