The Lowdown on Food and Water in Southeast Asia

The Lowdown on Food and Water in Southeast Asia

Some of the most common questions we hear are, “Is this water safe to drink?” and, “will this food make me sick?” They’re perfectly legitimate questions.

In Southeast Asia, almost all drinking water and ice (and certainly all on a Smiling Albino trip) come from modern factories using treated water.  The main reason for this is no different from anywhere else – economics.  Ice from a homemade freezer simply can’t compete with the economies of scale and brand reputation of a large ice factory.  Check the brand and the seal on your bottle of water, and look for the cylinder shape of purified ice – you’ll have no problems.  Water from the tap is not recommended for drinking, but is fine for showering and heaving at your friends during Songkran.

While caution is warranted when you’re out on your own, the restaurants that Smiling Albino choose for our guests are outstanding.  They all use excellent ingredients and hygiene, taking care even whether the meals are served at the Peninsula Hotel or on the banks of the Mekong.  When dining on your own look for the food to be cooked fresh from ingredients you can see.  If you have the chance, try a meal from a cart – you’ll rarely have the same opportunity to inspect the kitchen for cleanliness.   

Remember, if you over-spice your food or haven’t yet gotten used to the local flora, you may experience some mild discomfort.  But, there’s always a dish that will help get you back into trip shape.  From our experience, if you eat with good sense you’re more likely to get ill at a Mediterranean resort than from a Bangkok noodle stand.

When eating out anywhere, extra care is needed if you have serious allergies, especially if you’re sensitive to ingredients common in local cooking. Across Southeast Asia, food allergies are generally less well known and differ from typical sensitivities in North America and Europe.  While shellfish allergies are more familiar, peanuts are not a significant concern and aren’t separated during food preparation. If you have a severe peanut allergy, your server or cook may not understand the risks. Learn the ingredient name and the word allergy in the local language.  Even better, get us to write “I am very allergic to peanuts” on a card, or in your phone.  You can pull it out when you’re ordering to ensure you are clearly understood, and get your dish exactly as you expect.

Southeast Asian cuisine rivals the best from around the world.  Enjoy the complexity and pleasure of a six  course dinner with the perfect mix of salty, sweet, sour and heat.  Take a chance on eel soup, dried cuttlefish, or a rich red curry.  Savour simple rice soup at breakfast or freshly picked bananas during your bike ride.  If there is a place to try new food experiences, Southeast Asia is it.   Keeping in mind a few simple rules makes a world of difference and ensures that you’re ready for every delectable bite.

Enquire here about our culinary tours in the region. Bon appetit!

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