High Risk Chow: Eating in Cambodia, Vietnam and Everywhere

There are some risks I'm willing to take...especially when it comes to interesting food

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By David Hammond

People jump off bridges, tethered only by an elastic cord; they leap from airplanes to experience the thrill of weightlessness moments before their chute opens, and they have unprotected sex with total strangers (unbelievable, I know).

These are all risky amusements and in such situations, billions believe rewards outweigh the risk.

Walking through the downtown market in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, sanitation practices (or their lack) did give me pause. Food was stored directly upon the well-trod cement floors, and the dark, unmoving air of this central market hung heavy with the smells of living and recently-slaughtered chickens and fish kept on display without benefit of ice. I did not see any soap or running water.

Still, there was no way I was not going to eat some of this food, and so I chose some fish and sausages that came hot off lump charcoal grills, probably at their safest and certainly at their most delicious. I enjoyed both very much, in spite of or perhaps because of the raw surroundings.

By contrast, the market in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was very clean and well-lit, with people scrubbing plates and eating utensils with soapy water before rinsing and reusing. We had some pho with rare beef, as well as crackling fresh, herb-filled spring rolls, some sausage with noodles in a bowl and, of course, a bahn mi sandwich.

After eating at this second and seemingly more hygienic street market, my stomach felt a little weird, but I’m still alive, and I consider the risks of eating on the street in Sihanoukville, Ho Chi Minh City and Chicago to be worth the risk…though there are certainly dangers associated with eating many foods, anywhere.

There’s perhaps a comparable degree of risk, if of a somewhat different nature, associated with eating hamburger meat processed at a huge industrial facility or chicken raised and heavily medicated at a factory farm – these risks, however, are not what I consider acceptable.

I’ll take my risks on the street, where the food at least offers the reward of good taste.




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