Welcome to India! The nation where all of your senses are catapulted into a new world. With an overload of unfamiliar sights, sounds, textures and tastes, it’s no wonder that some stomachs are left playing catch up. But it doesn’t have to be that way! While there are endless reasons to visit incredible India, getting sick is not one of them. Interested in finding out how to experience the vibrancy of India without enduring a vibrant stomach to match? Read on for tips on eating in India and how to avoid the notorious Delhi belly.
What to avoid eating and drinking in India
1. Side-step the tap water
Make it your personal mission to avoid the tap water at all costs – it’s only ever going to mean bad news! Employ your best martial art skills to dodge washed salad, side-step ice cubes and duck away from fresh juices (unless they’re made with mineral water), and don’t even think about using the tap water to brush your teeth. If you see the locals drinking water from the tap, don’t follow suit! The water in India contains bacteria which foreign stomachs really can’t handle, so try not to trip up over something you can easily avoid.
2. Live life on the Veg
From Roti in Rajasthan to Masala in Mumbai, India is a culinary wonderland which rivals anywhere else on the planet. It’s also home to the largest population of vegetarians in the world, so the good news is that the artistry of Indian cooking doesn’t rely on meat! Sticking to a vegetarian diet while in India lowers the risk of contamination, and with meat-free options taking the forefront on every menu (the actual dream for those who are already veggie!) you won’t ever be stuck for choice. If you’re up for the challenge, going vegan for the duration of your Indian travels is an even better way to avoid feeling out of sorts. Under-cooked eggs, cheese and gone off milk can all cause a rumble in the tumble, but you’ll have a harder time avoiding these items on a daily basis.
3. Ask for “No-spicy”
It’s well known that when it comes to food, Indians like it HOT! Luckily, most restaurants will be aware of differing abilities when it comes to tolerating heat, and you can request for your dish to be “no-spicy” or “little-spicy” to keep those chillis down to a minimum. A lower spice level could be just the ticket to keep your digestive system from going into shock, or an absolute life-saver if you find yourself heading out on an overnight bus!
4. Be selective when it comes to street food
As tempting as it might look, always tread carefully when it comes to eating at street food vendors. Tasting the local dish can be a great way to get to know the true India, but it’s better to err on the side of caution when it comes to choosing where and what to eat. Stick to vendors that attract a large crowd, give the equipment a once over for cleanliness and make sure that the food is piping hot to ward off any unfriendly bacteria. If there are flies swarming all over the chapati you’re about to chomp, it’s time to rethink your food game!
5. Don’t eat peeled fruits
Stick to fruits that you can peel yourself, like bananas, oranges and mangoes, as naked fruit is a breeding ground for bacteria! Buffets and market stalls are the top culprits here so put your judgement skills to the test and if it doesn’t look protected, steer clear. Don’t presume that avoiding some fruits means you’ll be skipping out on your 5 a day. Indian cooking doesn’t just tantalise your taste buds, it also packs in the veg!
How to avoid getting sick from food / water in India
6. Drink the Local Lassi
Lassi is a magical, digestion enhancing drink which can be found all over India. Constructed by churning curd with an array of fruity or sweet flavours, it’s a drink that ticks both boxes when it comes to health and taste. It’s a good source of probiotics, a natural remedy for bloating, and is known to kill harmful viruses. It’s also been said that the best lassi in all of India can be found at “The Blue Lassi” in Varanasi, but we’ll leave that one open to debate!
7. Keep an antibacterial gel handy
Forget everything you were ever taught about table manners… using your hands to eat is a way of life in India! If you don’t want to be the odd one out, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got some antibacterial gel handy. Use it after every meal (and every toilet trip) to keep your stomach a germ free zone. It’s rare for a backpacker to be seen without it!
8. Alternate between curries and carb-heavy food
If you’re not used to eating some form of curry for breakfast, lunch and dinner, then diving head first into the culinary customs is bound to be a slight shock to the system. Instead of reducing your diet to strictly Indian, it’s a good idea to alternate between Indian food and familiar, carb-heavy food, for the first few days of your trip at least. Pizza is available almost everywhere and you’ll always be able to get your hands on some kind of “finger chips” or fries. Ok, ok it’s not the healthiest recommendation in the world, but some carb-loading every once in a while can work wonders!
9. Drink something fizzy!
Although there is no scientific research to back up carbonated drinks as an antidote to sickness, there seems to be a consensus amongst travellers that they can help you to feel a little bit less fuzzy. Whether it’s the sugar or the gas, it’s worth giving a can of cheap pop a go to see if it works as a simple remedy for your upset tum.
10. Only eat at places that are popular with the locals
When it comes to finding somewhere to eat, try to walk in the footsteps of locals. Asking for recommendations will not only give you a truly authentic (and delicious) experience, you’ll also be lowering the risk of ending up somewhere which could make you sick. A tried and tested restaurant is always going to be safer than some random dig! Hostel workers and tuktuk drivers will be more than happy to share their favourite hang outs with you, you just need to ask!
11. Stay hydrated with H2O
India can be hot, sticky and somewhat exhausting, so make sure you have hydration to hand at all times! Drinking enough water is essential to maintaining a healthy system, and you’ll need to drink more than your usual intake to replace any additional lost fluids. Thankfully, buying a ton of plastic, bottled water is no longer the only option. Most hostels in India now provide free filtered water so you can grab yourself a re-usable, eco-friendly bottle before you board the plane. Side note – if you do find yourself needing to buy a plastic water bottle, make sure that it’s sealed – no seal, no deal!
12. Take Probiotics
Start taking probiotics before you hit Indian soil and you’ll increase your chances of keeping Delhi belly at bay. Probiotics are made up of live micro-organisms which can prevent and treat illnesses – leaving you with a stomach made of steel! It’s best to do your research when it comes to finding the right probiotic for you as the benefits can vary from person to person. Get prepared and talk to a health professional before heading off.
Finally, it’s important to note that even if you do fall sick, there’s no need to panic! You’re out of your comfort zone in more ways than one and you can’t always expect your stomach to remain untouchable. Just know that eventually the sickness will pass and, once it does, you’ll have a great story to share with other travellers! Try not to let the paranoia of sickness stop you from experiencing one of the most captivating, colourful and creative places on earth. You’ll only ever regret the trip to India that you didn’t take!
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About the author:
Jen Gale is currently travelling in India and Nepal. You can follow her journey on Instagram @jenkg05. Expect critiques of curries, swoons over the colourful clothes and a generous helping of photographs.