Finding a good place to eat in developing countries can pose a bit of a challenge. Tracking down eateries that serve yummy food is obviously important, but actually poses less of a problem. Simply because if the food at a place is not to your liking, you can just write off the dollar and try your luck again next door.
Slightly more crucial is the matter of food safety. No use in slurping down the best-tasting Laksa in town, if it sends you to the loo for the next three days straight (I miss you, KL).
In regards to finding the safe places, there are a couple of obvious considerations. Best avoided are places that smell awful, where the staff looks unhealthy or where flies are buzzing over the tables. If they can’t be bothered to clean tables, why would they bother with the kitchen?
A restaurant floor covered knee-deep in used napkins during lunch time is not a bad sign, contrary to what one might think. It’s a sign of a place being very busy (locals seldom care to use bins, if they are provided at all) and that is very good for two reasons.
First, it shows that the locals are not getting sick on a regular base. Granted, their immune system compares to that of a western like the British SAS to a group of toddlers, but still, they are not bulletproof.
Reason number two is that a lot of customers mean a high turnover of produce. Which means that whatever ends up on your plate likely came from the market the same morning and not two weeks ago.
All that I’ve learned over the years and the knowledge has served me well (pun intended).
Two days ago I thought I’d try out a new restaurant that I had walked by on the way back from the peace pagoda. There wasn’t anybody else there when I arrived but it was a small place. Plus it had just started to rain.
When I placed my order, the guy taking it told me it’d be a few minutes, they had to call the chef first. At that point I should have ran for the hills. But nooooooo, I remained seated and waited for that steaming hot bowl of Thukpa. I mean it’s hot water with a lot of chilly, what can survive in that?
Apparently a lot, as during the following night I found myself awake and with the strong desire to empty my stomach in the uncommon direction. Things took their usual course and I spent the following day mostly in bed. Fortunately I didn’t feel too horrible (KL was much worse) and am already up and running today.
Still, sometimes I wonder what I got a brain for.