Vietnamese cuisine is well known around the world, that’s a fact. And one of the best things to do when visiting Vietnam is to discover the local food scene with a street food tour! You probably know this too. Overall, street food in Vietnam is pretty much safe and delicious. If you are already familiar with the food culture in many Southeast Asia countries and never had a problem before, great, nothing can stop you. But if you are a beginner foodie and rarely try street food in a totally strange country, then doing a little research is absolutely needed. We share our tips on food to avoid in Vietnam to guarantee the safest food experience in Vietnam for you and your family.
FOOD SAFETY IN VIETNAM TIPS – TIPS FOR EATING STREET FOOD IN VIETNAM
1. Personal hygiene – what you can do to stay safe
The first thing to do before doing a street food tour in Vietnam, especially the self-guided tour, is to take proper hygiene precautions. The simplest thing you can do is to bring hand sanitizer and prepare in advance some medicine like Imodium, probiotics capsules, and other kinds of antibiotics tablets.
Before digging in, remember to use clean paper to wipe the chopsticks and spoons. In fact, this is something local people do all the time. And if you’re wondering whether it is rude to do this in a local restaurant or food stall, it’s considered not rude to do so.
2. How to choose a safe place to eat
Choosing the places to eat during your food adventure would be a little difficult if you’re a first-timer, especially in Vietnam where countless food stalls and restaurants all line up on the streets. But there are some steps you can follow to find a safe place:
- Before going in you can observe first. First, have a look at a restaurant’s location and surroundings. If you find a heap of trash that seems to be damp and dirty, don’t risk a chance there. You can also trust a place that has crowds of eaters which at least indicates the place to be safe and trustworthy.
- If you can see the cook or chef, pay attention if they’re wearing gloves or they’re using bare hands. The one who touches the food gloveless shouldn’t be the one who touches the money and vice versa.
- See if the sellers practice food hygiene precautions properly or not. The ingredients should be covered under a glass shield to prevent bugs or contaminants.
- If you can see where they wash the plates and bowls, stay away if this place is damp, dirty, and exposed near puddles on the streets.
- The oil is also something to look at. Some places might use dirty over-used oil which appears to be darkened. This kind of oil can be bad for your health and they’re exactly the type of food to avoid in Vietnam.
3. How to seek medical help
In the worst-case scenario, you must know how to get medical help as fast as you can. If not serious or you only get an upset stomach, you can go to drugstores for medicine (or a hot ginger tea will also help). But if you have symptoms like vomiting, get to a local hospital as soon as possible.
For many people, eating new food the first time can result in a bit of feeling funny in the stomach because your body is trying to adapt. So, our advice is to not eat too much street food in one day and pace yourself wisely. But in the end, only you know yourself the best, keep track of the reactions in your body and once you feel that you’re not alright, seek medical help right after.
4. Consider a guided street food tour
Planning what to eat, getting locations, choosing places to eat while remembering all the steps to keep you safe can be a little taxing. If you find it a little too much work, you can leave it to professional planners. All you have to do is enjoy the food trip, completely worry-free about food safety and other problems there might be.
You can always tell your tour operator about your preferences as well as your worries, they’ll customize a Vietnam street food tour just for you. A guided food tour in Vietnam is the best option of lowering the risk of getting food poisoning.
TOP DRINK OR FOOD TO AVOID IN VIETNAM FOR A SAFE FOOD TOUR
1. Tap Water
Avoid drinking tap water is the first advice when it comes to water safety in tropical countries. In Vietnam, even local people don’t drink tap water – simply because it’s not clean enough. To foreigners, by carelessly drinking tap water you might put a whole bunch of strange microbes inside your body for no good reason.
While in Vietnam, always drink boiled water or bottled water and you’ll get one thing off the list of things to worry about. However, teeth brushing with tap water in Vietnam should be fine but if you still worry, you can brush your teeth with bottle water.
2. Block Ice
Ice is another concern for water safety in Vietnam. As much as you love street drinks, you should probably stay away from ice that seems to be broken from a bigger block of ice, because the water used may not be sanitary or it might be contaminated during transporting.
When drinking with ice, always ask for smaller ice cubes which can be a bit more expensive but usually more carefully-made.
3. Uncooked Vegetables and unwashed herbs
Unwashed vegetables and herbs are the first food to avoid in Vietnam in our list. We have our reason.
Herbs and vegetables make up a large part in Vietnamese cuisine and you can find them in many street dishes, especially with noodle soups, wraps, and rolls. Even though you can be confident they’re prepared and washed, you also can always ask the vegetables and herbs to be put in boiling water before serving. Many locals do this, too.
4. Uncooked seafood
Seafood in Vietnam is delicious, fresh, quite cheap, and safe, well, if cooked the right way. We don’t recommend you to eat raw or uncooked seafood. The reason is the uncooked seafood might contain unwanted and harmful bacteria.
Raw oysters are tempting, but if you have a weak immune system or a weak stomach, grilled oyster seems to be a better choice. Fish salad (or Goi Ca), a popular dish in Vietnam, a dish made of raw fish, wrapped in rice papers with herbs, should also be on your list of food to stay away. But relax, Vietnamese people are also not that fond of uncooked seafood, so you won’t see them in your meal that often!
5. Raw Blood Pudding (Tiet Canh)
Tiet Canh is a common dish in northern Vietnam which is made of raw, fresh duck/chicken or pig’s blood. However, this dish is eventually losing its fame even to locals due to its lethal dangers. Few people even died or hospitalized after eating this dish.
If the pig is sick, its blood might be infected with some bad bacteria or parasite. In the case of birds, eating their raw blood can make you sick with bird flu like H5N1 or H1N1 and the likes. So we strongly recommend that you stay away from any restaurant/stall that has a sign which reads “Tiet Canh” in Vietnam.
6. Dog Meat
Dog meat is a popular dish to locals and often lavishly cooked (they say there’re seven dishes you can make from dog meat). Eating dog meat has nothing with food safety but rather with cultural perspective and the cruel way of the dog-selling network.
Westerners (even locals nowadays) often refuse to eat this dish since they view dogs as friends of humans. Another reason to not eat dog meat is to discourage the black market of dog meat in Vietnam. Every year, dogs are stolen from their owners and end up in slaughterhouses. Many organizations in Vietnam have been working hard in raising awareness and encouraging people to abandon eating dog meat altogether.
7. Wild animals and strange meat
2020 has made it clear why we should stop eating wild animals, a custom in many Asia countries which might be the reason to help to spread deadly infectious diseases like Covid-19. Compared to China and some Southeast Asia, eating wild animals is not that famous within the population (we don’t eat bats). Wild animals are not displayed and sold in mass numbers in the city’s wet markets but they are often viewed as precious and rare products which are purchased at a high price. The government has regulations against trading wildlife, especially endangered species, and has been cracking down network after network. You can rest assured that you won’t see wild animals or strange meat in a Vietnam market.
8. Fruits with edible skins
Tropical fruits in Vietnam are one of the best things you can eat – they’re abundant, they’re cheap and they’re everywhere. Just a small thing to notice – you might not want to eat too many fruits with edible skins which are considered food to avoid in Vietnam for many.
With fruits like orange and banana, there is no headache. But with fruits with edible skins like grapes, guava, apple… if you decide to eat the peel, then make sure to buy them in supermarkets, wash thoroughly before eating. The reason for this is because the farmers in Vietnam, like anywhere else on earth, rely on pesticides which are obviously harmful to your body.
9. Pufferfish (Globefish)
It’s a common knowledge that pufferfish (or Ca Noc in Vietnamese) is poisonous and very hard to process and cook. If a globefish is processed the wrong way, the result can be fatal. And, every year, people continue to die because of this fish.
In Vietnam, pufferfish are quite common in the south – they’re often used in various kinds of soup or stew. However, in recent years, Ca Noc is banned from exploiting and the people are recommended to abandon this fish altogether. Make sure you get ‘Ca Noc’ away from your food table for your own good.
*Tip: Do not mistake ‘Ca Noc’ and ‘Ca Loc’ together. Ca Loc or Ca Qua is not poisonous and is very delicious and nutritious for your health.
In conclusion, food poisoning in Vietnam is still a risk but can be easily avoided if you prepare yourself with knowledge of the food culture in Vietnam. We hope with this list you will have a wonderful and safe street food experience.
If you still have more questions about food safety in Vietnam and concern that is left unanswered, do not hesitate to contact us! Our travel consultant will gladly be a part of your successful food adventure!