I completely agree that there is something sketchy about eating food on the side of the street. But it’s really hard to beat! There’s just something so alluring about eating freshly cooked stuff off of sticks while cars are whizzing by and you’re sitting on a bright blue plastic stool with your jacket and scarf on. It’s fun, cheap, and I have yet to get sick off of it (although I tend to go to the places that are a little more established … er, offer stools and use separate tables/grills rather than the ones that consist of only a little wheelie cart).
I went with a Shanghainese friend for a streetside barbecue dinner, and it was great. I’ve been before in other places around China, and it’s pretty much the same everywhere, always pretty cheap. You pick what you want (meat, vegetables, random things like mantou, et cetera), they cook it, you eat it. Simple as pie. When they cook the sticks they sometimes add a spice mixture, but I prefer my food non-spicy so I have them skip it. Places like this run the gamut in selection and cleanliness, so it’s always a good idea to stick to the ones that are larger and less mobile.
Oh, and you see the scallops and oysters in the photo? My friend had the scallops, which she apparently does often and lives to tell the tale. I might be brave enough to eat street food in China, where food safety is a widespread concern, but seafood streetside China? I’m definitely not that brave.