Some people regard eating in Asia as a game of Russian roulette, where you’re always likely to get ill from a meal, but just don’t know when. I’m sure that during our three months here, we’ll eat some dodgy meals, and end up getting temporarily ill from them, but on the other hand, we’ve got some rules of thumb that help us avoid it as much as possible – and they fly in the face of what many other people do!
Rule of eating in Asia Number 1: Eat where you can see it cooked
Which means that we avoid restaurants, and especially buffets, in favour of ‘street food’. The picture on the left shows stage one of the making of streetfood – a food stall being pushed down the road to be setup on the main road in Georgetown, right alongside the stream of traffic. And not only does it contain the kitchen, and the food, but piled on top are the tables and chairs that make up the stall too. They are stored away overnight, and in the morning different stalls are pushed out to make breakfast treats (like rice porridge). In may look unhygienic, but curiously, we like eating at street stalls because you can see the food, you can see it being cooked right in front of you, and it is served up to you the minute its ready. Okay, so it doesn’t always look safe, especially when there’s a rack of chicken, or a whole chicken, hanging behind the glass all evening, without anything like a fridge, ice etc.
Rule of eating in Asia Number 2: Eat like a local
If a restaurant is packed out with locals, you know it doesn’t make a habit of making its patrons ill! It’s exactly the opposite logic of some who believe that a restaurant full of tourists must be good, because you can get away with anything in there – after all your customers leave the country in a fortnight at the most! Tonight we ate Indian, at a ‘banana leaf’ restaurant. They serve all of their food up on a banana leaf instead of a plate, and they don’t bother with unnecessary stuff like cutlery. Charlotte loved the idea, until she had dollops of rice and curry served onto her leaf, and realised that she actually had to dip her fingers into that. But the look on her face was actually because she’d just spotted a mouse running across the floor!
Rule of eating in Asia Number 3: Be a flexi-vegetarian
When you’ve seen the chicken hanging in a warm window all day, then perhaps it’s wise to leave it to another customer! If there’s any doubt about how old the chicken/beef/fish is, then its easy to eat vegetarian in Asia, where the vegetable dishes tend to be really, really good (even for me, who normally feels there’s something missing if there’s no meat in my meal). And that rule gets stricter on Sunday, when we cross from the relative safety of Malaysia (bird-flu free) to Thailand (where bird flu continues to rampage all over the country). Even though WHO say that you can’t catch bird flu from properly cooked chicken, there are so many deaths clocking up in Thailand, that we’ve decided to be over cautious until we feel somebody has a full understanding of the facts.