Monkey Abroad

Videos and stories of the life abroad – food, culture, travel & work

street food in China
street food in China

Is it Safe to Eat Street Food in China?


I’ve been receiving comments and emails lately warning me about the safety of the street food that I eat in my videos. It’s old news that food safety scandals are afoot in China, but it’s definitely not as bad as the media makes it out to be. As somebody who eats Chinese street food almost everyday, I want to shed some light on this gutter oil and rat meat sensationalism and restore foreigners’ courage to try street food in China.


street food in china

It all started with a few people who processed and sold tons of barrels of recycled gutter oil at below-market prices to low-end Chinese street vendors and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. After this ring of illegal oil dealers was uncovered, videos and news stories sensationalizing gutter oil in Chinese street food hit the web. Now, people are concerned that their grub might be cooked with gutter oil.

Since I regularly eat in street food stands and hole-in-the-wall restaurants, you might ask, “How do you know you aren’t eating gutter oil?” Honestly I can’t be sure whether my jianbing guozi was cooked with gutter oil or whether the mutton skewers I devoured last night were actually rat meat, but I ate them anyway, and they tasted heavenly. After almost a year in China, I haven’t gotten sick because of street food. Once, I accidentally drank a few cups of unboiled water from the sink. Don’t make that mistake.

street food in china

To answer Melony’s question, it’s impossible to know which stalls have good food, but your instincts are usually a great indicator of what’s good and what isn’t. My strategy for eating street food in China is simple: If it looks good, I try it. If it tastes good, I eat it. If it tastes like garbage, I spit it out. Rarely do I encounter food that I have to spit out.

A single Big Mac patty can contain meat from up to a thousand different cows from five different countries. I’ve met foreigners in China who won’t go near street vendors yet they’re happy eating in Chinese McDonald’s. Fact is, neither one of us knows exactly what we’re eating or where our food is coming from.

street food in China

street food in China

The media has a way of making a big deal about stuff that doesn’t have that great of an impact on us (gutter oil, rat meat) because it makes for more head-turning news than the legal everyday stuff that significantly impacts health, like preservatives and an overall poor quality of diet. But that’s old news. If you want to avoid eating deep-fried food, don’t do it because you’re afraid of ‘gutter oil,’ do it because deep-fried food is unhealthy.

The production of recycled gutter oil for human consumption is revolting and should result in severe punishment like life imprisonment and in some cases the death penalty, but I’m not going to abstain from eating out because of a few sensational videos and news stories.

My advice: Don’t let food scandals frighten you so much that you never allow yourself to experience the greatness of Chinese street food. Your own instincts and perceptions are the most reliable method of determining which food is good and not good.

street food in China

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!


  1. Thanks so much Kevin for your posts. I am a big fan of Chinese culture, people and history. My travels to China have been delayed but I hope to experience the East soon.

  2. Hey Kevin I can’t hold myself back & I have to reply. I travelled 12 to China ( Schezen, Gandzou) south east part of China. I know I did not spell correctly. During 1996-1999

    Anyway area filth, watched by military outside hotel. I went there 4x a year on business. In night market nearby, among other items were numerous dogs being sold to eat:( A man with no legs or arms laying down on landing of staircase.
    He was extremely dirty & begging for

    And yes I have seen begging before in NYC where I lived for 20 yes. There were also children 6-10 holding infants & skin color were off yellow/pale green, I tried to give them food but children only wanted food.

    I could go on & on. I realize other countries have similar problems. Even when I was in Mumbai I did not see such control & misery. China feels like a cold emotional environment.

    I can’t pur my finger in it , but something about that area of China I really do not like. Oh and yeah and
    Mc Donald’s sucks in this country and in China the meat ughhh. But I don’t eat Mc Donald’s in U S A either. It was only option for lunch. I gaged.

    I won’t deny the food issue with me . I absolutely love love to travel to the crust of the world. i can’t even eat sushi. But I do embrace and respect cultures and people.

    Ok hand hurts. I write the above to make it clear China is not all so fun

  3. what we don’t know wont hurt us! :-/ (I hope)

  4. Interesting contrast, Connie! I hope southeastern coastal China such as Shenzhen or Guangzhou is not all glum because that’s where I hope to go as a teacher. It would take some fortitude to walk past large arrays of caged dogs or cats being readied for somebody’s gustatory experience; that would be hard, I guess in part coming from a Western background. But overall I am excited about trying out a different culture. Reading your adventures makes it seem all the more alluring, Kevin. Thanks for sharing!

    • Kevin , an additional comment. (Since you are going to travel to SE China). Free trade had just opened up when I first travelled in 1996. A contact in SE Asia did tell me it was very different now and becoming more modern. That is not a good thing in my opinion either, retaining the countries culture would be ideal.

      But, the business conducted in that area of SE China is approx. 1hr over the Hong Kong / Chinese border. So it is easily accessible from HK.

      I am sure with the amount of dollars pumping into China. The strength in the economy within China is strong.

      I know I got off track!! Regards Connie

  5. Business has exploded in that area of SE China and it has a strong influence on China particularly in that section of China including.

  6. Thank you so much for answering my question and advice.

  7. love the videos…how do you say “just vegetables” in Chinese?

  8. After wathing your videos, I was thinking about the same thing about the safety of street food. I grow up in China. Even before the news about food safety, I hardly ate street food. Because it do look not clean enough. Especially they touch the food that you’re gonna put in you mouth without any protection. Can you imagine that? I’m sure that you have seen it for many times. If that is just a standard procedure, maybe it is acceptable. You’d better go somewhere like a food street(小吃街&美食街)and eat food with hygiene license.(卫生许可证). I believe if you’d like to spend more money eating at restaurant or fastfood restaurant you find Chinese food is so much better than you thought before. By the way, I ate Panda Chinese food in America before… Well, they tasted just like… American food…

  9. Pingback: China’s Street Food: A Delectable Tour of Jinzhou, Shanghai and X’ian | Best Place Vacation

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