In general, there’s a two-sided opinion on street foods.
(This post is a bit of a divergence from the travel posts). People either like it or they don’t. For starters, it’s cheap, accessible, and usually sells what the locals would eat, meaning it’s tasty and for the most part authentic. On the other hand, there’re a lot of questions about quality of ingredients and if it’s safe for consumption. No one really knows how the food is handled, so it’s unclear whether or not things were properly prepared. Eating street food is kinda like diving into the unknown. You always hear about it, but you never know until you try it for yourself.
For me, my favorite part of traveling is trying the street foods. I prefer them to sitting in restaurants and eating. I never liked the idea of eating meals with one main dish. I’d much rather eat sporadically and in small increments, stopping at food stands with enticing smells or crowded with locals– a sure sign that the food is great.
There’s always that concern of the cleanliness of the food stand, and it’s something I often think about. Obviously, I don’t want to get sick. But the idea of traveling means that I am spending a lot of money to get out of my comfort zone and try new things, as cliché as it is. I don’t want to miss an opportunity for good food just because I was too scared of getting sick. And usually, if I don’t think the food stand is clean or operates on a relatively sterile level, I don’t eat there. It’s a call you have to make based on your intuitiveness and the surrounding atmosphere.
In Korea, one of the most popular street foods is Korean Egg Toast. It’s definitely not Korean, but it is a staple in our diverse food scene– especially towards students. Two pieces of buttered and toasted Wonder Bread and a thick egg omelette and melted sliced processed cheese in the middle with a giant pile of cabbage and carrots. Some places like to add a piece of ham or spam. A light drizzle of mayonnaise and ketchup to finish it off.
Most tourists head to Isaac Toast (popular toast chain restaurant) or other brick and mortar stores to eat these tasty treats, but they don’t know what they’re missing. The best toasts are sold in the back of trucks (not food trucks, but legitimate trucks) and run by grandmas with their newly black dyed and tightly permed hairs. They, unlike the chain stores, put a little more care into the toasts, making sure you leave with a big smile on your face. They add an even bigger proportion of cabbage, slice off a thicker slab of meat, crack another egg for the omelette. It’s these places that sell authentic toast that we locals like to eat. It’s these places that are also disappearing, because less people see them as places of comfort and cheap, delicious alternatives to what the popular chains sell and more as run-down, unhygienic boxes.
I’m not telling you to run to the nearest food stand and order food for the sake of local immersion. But don’t rule them out, because you are too afraid to try new things. Often times, it’s your loss.