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Adventurous eating comes with a price and a payoff

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Chicago Tribune (MCT) - For a food freak like me, there's simply no point in visiting another country without partaking liberally of its street food.

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Highlights

By Monica Eng
McClatchy Newspapers (www.mctdirect.com)
3/30/2009 (1 decade ago)

Published in Travel

It represents the culinary soul of a country. It's served with little fuss. It's made to suit local tastes. It's cheap. And lousy vendors disappear quickly in this highly competitive game.

Some of my most delicious meals have included pakoras and chutney on the streets of Pakistan, oyster pancakes in Taiwan, mutton shashlik in Uzbekistan, malanga fritters in Cuba, cheese burek in Croatia, nacatamales in Nicaragua, koshari in Egypt, alcapurrias in Puerto Rico, bean pies in Japan, handmade noodles in Kyrghzstan, roti john in Singapore and green mango sprinkled with chile in Guatemala. I could go on, but I'm getting hungry.

Plus, I can already feel the fingers waving at me for flaunting health guidelines from professionals such as Dr. Rachel Oosterbaan of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She has worked extensively abroad. Oosterbaan advises that when eating in developing nations, a traveler should avoid all tap water, all ice, all raw vegetables, all fresh salsas, all dairy, all shellfish whether cooked or raw and all food not served piping hot or very cold and cooked through. Fruit that you peel yourself is fine.

Though Oosterbaan's guidelines are backed by science, mine come from acquiring many foreign bugs in my gut and having a huge appetite.

So I eat from stands if: they attract a long line of locals; they carefully peel fruit and wash hands and utensils; they cook food to piping hot before my eyes; or the food just smells great and they serve tasty salsa.

Sure, I've made some bad street-food choices in my life, but they were nothing that tea, papaya and yogurt couldn't sort out. In exchange, my memories of the country are stronger. My kinship with the culture is deeper. And my taste buds are a lot happier.

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Monica Eng: meng@tribune.com

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© 2009, Chicago Tribune.

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