Healthy eating while travelling, it can be tricky at times.
You’ve come half way around the world on an adventure of a lifetime for a few weeks or you’re travelling long term and want to stay healthy, eat well and experience all the culinary delights your new place has to offer.
There is no one size fits all rule when it comes to nutrition-we are all different in our nutritional requirements and i don’t want to delve too much into the science of nutrition here; there’s enough information out there easily found online already regarding this.
If you’re active and want to retain muscle mass, good quality protein is an essential requirement. Unfortunately protein is normally expensive and unless you have a kitchen with a fridge or freezer, you can’t buy in bulk and make your own meals on the road; you’re at the mercy of restaurants or street food.
I’ve personally found it a little difficult to get a good amount of protein into my daily diet cheaply when travelling long term, especially in Asia. The food here is mainly noodle and rice based, great for energy but not so great for satiety and for that daily protein fix.
Granted you can buy a whole fish or steak/chicken easily enough but it costs a fair bit. In Thailand it’s around Baht 300 (£6) for a decent sized piece of fish without any extras. Ok for a treat now and agin but not suitable everyday if you’re travelling on a budget.Vietnam is not too bad though if you get an apartment with a kitchen, as decent steak and chicken can be bought for around $1.50, less than Thailand.
Some serious fish…
Staple dishes found in Thailand such as Pad Thai Gai (noodle chicken) and Khau Phad Moo (rice with pork) are cheap and delicious but can be a little oily with minimal meat present. My trick here is to add one or two Kai or egg to the dish; most restaurants will do this and it’s only around 5-10 Baht extra to get that much needed protein boost into the dish. Same goes for Vietnam, add that extra op la or Trung ga (eggs) for a much needed protein boost for a few cent more-most places will allow you to do this.
Healthy Eating Budget Options
I’ve found the tinned fish here such as tuna to be of really good quality and fairly cheap, so one trick i use is to buy a cup noodle from the local 7-11 or family mart and add a tin of tuna and an egg. The shops here sell boiled eggs in packets which is really handy, so for around 70 Baht you can get 40+ grams of protein in which from a restaurant would cost you a lot more.
Health eating while travelling is a little easier if you’ve got access to a kitchen on the road.
Most hostels these days and some hotels allow you to use their kitchens. Western food is readily found in Asia as big supermarket chains such as Tesco Lotus and Big C become entrenched in the towns and cities. Combine these with the local food markets and the you can eat especially well for very little money, you may have to take a cooking class or two first though!
Where Asia excels however is in the fruit and vegetable department.
Quality produce can be bought at most markets very cheaply and dishes in restaurants such as morning glory or broccoli with oyster sauce can be had very cheaply. Depending on how adventurous you are another option is to stick to street food vendors who frequently just appear out of know where on their motorbikes and set up a mini BBQ.
You can get a small fish on a stick such as snapper and chicken kebabs for good prices but im always a little dubious as to the hygiene of these places. Many people swear by them but after getting a little ill one time after dining at one of these im always careful. By googling ‘street food hygiene’ you get an interesting mix of results, which brings me onto….
How Safe Is Street Food?
It’s a hotly debated topic. Should i eat street food? Is it safe?
Some people swear by their street food, others avoid it like the plague! Personally i take the middle ground and exercise caution. Street food definitely has its place amongst healthy food when travelling, but it’s worth noting the following steps when considering street food in South East Asia.
- It goes without saying but avoid anything raw at markets and restaurants.
- Try and stick to food that you can see prepared in front of you and always ask for everything ‘well done.’ Thai style cooking involves cooking at very high temperatures for a short amount of time; i’ve had slightly pink chicken served to me before and have had to send it back.
- Try and avoid ice from road side vendors and ensure that the ice has a hole in the centre which means it’s from purified water. Avoid crushed ice from street vendors and be careful when ordering smoothies on the roadside.
- Stick to busy places especially full of local people; the Thais generally know the best places and stick to them.
- Avoid buffet style places especially open air ones at the roadside. The food may look tempting but it’s probably been sitting there for hours in the hot sun and humidity.
- Ensure that vegetables and fruits are washed well in good quality water and peeled where possible.