Tips for Eating Weird Food, Safely
By: Zach Diamond
Maybe having watched too many episodes of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, I love eating weird shit. Be it bugs, raw meat, or organs, as long is it’s an actual authentic dish, I’m down to try it. During my travels through Latin America, I have truly pushed the envelope, eating pretty much anything that came my way. Sharing these experiences on my Instagram, I receive a great deal of responses asking somewhat personal questions about my gut health after I try these new foods. I’m pleased to say that, so far in my travels, I have had no bad experiences eating bizarre foods. In fact, the only time I got a mild case of food poisoning was after eating a salad a well-regarded chain. While I am not a doctor by any means and do not intend for the below tips to be taken as science-backed claims, here are some general rules I try and follow to stay safe and healthy.
Eat it while it’s hot
As a general rule of thumb, cooking kills any harmful microbes. To play it safe when I have any doubts about a vendor’s sanitation, I order hot soups, stews, stir-fries, or anything else that is cooked thoroughly over high heat.
Avoid raw, unpeeled veggies
In areas that it is unsafe to drink from the tap, I assume that most places aren’t washing their veggies with bottled or filtered water. Therefore, I try to avoid veggies like lettuces, sliced tomatoes, and unpeeled cucumber as much as possible. Honestly, this is the rule I break most often since it is common to use these veggies as garnishes, but I try my hardest. When possible, I’ll ask for no lettuce, or say that I don’t want the side salad.
Go to Crowded Places
I try to use the number of people ordering food as a makeshift sanitation score. People don’t go back to restaurants that got them sick, right? When I wanted to try mondongo kabic (Yucatecan tripe) or anticuchos de res (Peruvian beef heart), I went to the places that had lines. In addition to be safe to eat, crowded places most likely serve better tasting food as well!
I try to keep the microbiome of my gut in tip-top condition, feeding my flora and fauna with ferments like kimchi, kombucha, and lactofermented veggies. The week before I left for Peru, I decided to kick it up a notch, and starting taking Saccharomyces boulardii supplements, a strain of yeast that can help combat pathogenic microbes in the intestines. While I can’t say for sure if these supplements have saved me from any food-borne illnesses, it is something that I believe in.
Take a Shot to Sterilize
This one may be a bit of a stretch and is definitely not supported by any scientific evidence, but I swear by it. After eating beef tartare at a no frills cantina in Mexico city, I took a tequila shot. In Lima, after accidentally ordering what seemed to be the entire inside of a cow, I took a pisco shot. Even in the US, I try to take shots of vodka with raw oysters. Maybe I’m only coming up with an excuse to drink, but sterilizing with hard liquor has become my last resort when I’m not so sure about the food I just ate.