I just came back from my third trip to India and I was lucky to not have any Delhi belly problems again. It was partly pure luck, a part of the success I attribute to my strong immune system, but the most important reason I think I didn’t get sick is that I followed all the “rules” for food safety in India.
Food poisoning can ruin the whole trip to India, so I wish no one has to experience it. If you are traveling to India for the first time, you need to know that hygiene is not always the best. People who live in India develop an incredible immune system that helps them survive everything. But even my Indian mother-in-law avoids eating in questionable restaurants and on the streets in India, because of the low hygiene standards. And people who are traveling to India as tourists need to be extra careful with food and water.
Here are the basic food safety rules that every traveler to India should know.
Basic food safety tips for India
Be careful with water
Contaminated water is one of the most common reasons why tourists get sick in India. Avoid tap water at all costs and only drink water from plastic bottles. Try to buy water from the most popular companies like Bisleri, Kinley, Aquafina. Also, always check the factory seal on the bottle, because some people just fill the old bottles with tap water and re-sell them.
To be extra careful, you can use bottled water to brush your teeth as well, especially if you are not sure about the water quality in your accommodation. I used normal tap water to brush teeth in India and it was fine, but I only stayed in good hotels and with my relatives.
Many people forget to pay attention to the ice as well. There is no guarantee that the ice cubes are made from filtered water, that’s why it is safer to avoid ice in your drinks.
Another thing to watch for is the water on the plates and cutlery. You have no idea which water was used to wash the dishes, so check them before using and wipe off the water from the plate if you notice some. Do the same with forks and spoons or just eat with your hands.
Eat with your hands
In India, many people eat food with hands. Not only does the food taste better this way, but it can also be more hygienic. As I mentioned, you never know if the cutlery was washed with the clean water, but you know how clean your hands are. So use your hands to eat Indian food whenever you can.
Always keep a hand sanitizer with you and use it before eating any food. Hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes are my must-haves for travel in India.
Avoid eating raw fruits and salad
Raw fruits and vegetables can be unsafe to eat because of the water that was used to wash them. There are lots of vegetables in Indian cuisine, but they are usually cooked. After a few days in India, I always crave some raw vegetables, but I still avoid salads in restaurants. Even the filtered tap water can contain some bacteria that people from outside of India are not used to. For short-term travelers to India, it is just not worth taking the risk.
Same goes for raw fruits. If you buy fruits on the street, it’s better to wash and peel or cut them at home, then you can be sure that they are safe to eat.
Fresh juices and cold drinks
Apart from street food, you can see many different Indian cold drinks being sold on the streets. Unfortunately, street vendors usually use ice and tap water to make them, which makes street drinks potentially unsafe for travelers. You should avoid freshly squeezed fruit juice as well.
Street food in India
Indian street food is so unique and delicious. There are street food stalls everywhere and it is so tempting to try Indian street food when you see locals enjoying it. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t. If you follow all other food safety guidelines and have a strong immune system, you might be lucky and get away with it as I did. However, if you want to increase your chances of not getting sick in India, staying away from street food is the best idea.
Besides, many restaurants have street food style items on the menu, where you can be a bit more sure that the food is safe to eat. My two favorite Indian chain restaurants are Haldirams and Sagar Ratna. These are big names in the industry, so I feel more confident to eat there.
Become a vegetarian in India
India is the country with the biggest number of vegetarian in the world and home to the most delicious vegetarian dishes. It is easy to be vegetarian in India, because of the huge variety of veg food. Even if you eat meat at home, it’s better for your safety to stick to vegetarian food in India. Vegetarian food, if properly cooked, is unlikely to make you sick. Note that eggs are also considered non-veg in India.
If you really want to try Indian meat dishes, go to a popular restaurant with good reviews.
Probiotics help with digestion and boost your immune system. India offers some good probiotic-rich foods, so take advantage of that and try to eat more of them. Some Indian probiotic-rich foods are dosa, idli, dhokla, achaar(pickles), dahi(yogurt).
Try Indian home-cooked food
If you get a chance to eat a home-cooked meal in India, you might be a little surprised that it is quite different from the restaurant food. From my own experience, home-cooked food is usually less spicy and greasy than restaurant food. It is just more simple and easy to digest, especially if you are new to Indian cuisine and not used to all the spices. If you don’t have an Indian family or friends, homestay can be a good option to experience the local culture better and to try some delicious home-cooked food. Or take a cooking class with a local Indian family. Not only will you get a chance to eat Indian food, but also learn how to cook it.
There is, of course, no guarantee, that you won’t get sick in India, even after following all the “rules”. But by doing so, you limit the chance of getting sick to a minimum. Make sure to get travel insurance before your trip and enjoy a stress-free time in India!