On my travels many a times I have been asked by my friends from abroad how safe is it to travel in India and try it’s street food. And I can see the enthusiasm they have towards exploring our culture and cuisine and I wish it was a cakewalk to explore food in India but sadly it isn’t. And yet this doesn’t stop me and my passion for food makes me wish it doesn’t stop the people from abroad as well. So here’s my list of todos I follow to avoid catching a bug while travelling in India or abroad:
Avoid eating meats:
The problem with meat even when it maybe cooked by a street food vendor is because of the fast food method of cooking it might not have been cooked in the insides and this is a risk you cannot take, especially when you don’t know the source of the meat, how old it is and how it was stored before cooking. Well cooked meat can require long marination and needs to be cooked slow and for long, atleast when it comes to cooking methods used in Indian cuisine.
In India I would prefer to eat my meat from a restaurant that I have scoped out for good consistent reviews for cleanliness and quality of food or eat only from street food stalls that have a consistent review.
Visit the stalls that have a good turnout and the biggest crowd:
If a stall has many customers it can mean that the food is delicious and that it is freshly cooked to cater to the fast moving crowd.
Here again there can be exceptions:In a country like India which is densely populated every stall can look crowded, so stop and do a bit of scouting and visual inspection.
Next the stall could be crowded only because it maybe giving out discounts to clear stock.And many a places can clearly be crowded cause of sheep mentality of following the crowd. In such cases always look for the stalls frequented by families of decent means where they would take care to feed children only what is deemed safe for consumption.
Never ever drink water from the tap:
This I follow religiously even when abroad unless I have clarified with my stay and my stay meets my standard of cleanliness enough to want me to take thier word for it. I would rather and always have carried by 1 or 2 ltr water bottles from supermarkets with me in my backpack to be on the safer side.
This keeps me for overpaying for water at touristy landmarks. This one time in hongkong I have paid 6 hkd for a ltr of water from a hypermarket and since I haven’t carried my bottle ended up paying 22hkd for 500ml bottle at Victoria Peak. This is thus a major way to save money while travelling on a budget.
This also means avoid all places where the ice may have been dragged as a slab on a cart and crushed and served. Never drink water even in restaurants, even if its in bottles unless they are sealed and DO NOT order any juices that need water to be added.
Even while I was in Singapore, though street food in Singapore can be quite safe due to the high standards of cleanliness and the fines levied on them by the government in case of any misses, I still opted to pay more for a watermelon juice with no ice to be safe.
Never eat fruits that have been cut open and stored to be sold:
Fruits once cut open start to deteriorate quickly and if you are not an expert at identifying how an exotic fruit should look when fresh it’s best to have the fruit freshly prepped for you. Always. Or head to the local supermarket and buy your own fresh fruits.
Food if eaten should always be freshly made and HOT when served:
Especially in India where due to the tropical climate, food deteriorates faster if exposed to the elements, hence traditional cooking methods require food to be heated twice a day to preserve it, which may not be followed at the restaurants or stalls.Hence its best to ensure every serving is heated before its served. This also means avoid the pani puri stalls.
Avoid pumping those sauces and serving urself from the uncovered sauces servings:
Many a times the sauce bottles may not have been cleaned and refilled for months or the sauces themselves may have gone bad and the sauce serving utensils if they don’t have a lid could have been visited by flies. Or the water used to make these sauces could be unverifiable. And since these sauces are not heated before serving, never touch these.
Unless the vendor is making some chowmein and the sauces are exposed to heat before serving.
This also means never go for yoghurt, pickles or dips that aren’t freshly made for your order. This is an advice from my doctor that I follow religiously.
Always carry sanitisers and tissues:
Many a times both in India and even in Italy many restrooms or stalls won’t have tissues/napkins. The first thing I do is invest in some to always keep your hands clean, in case you need to eat without any cutlery.
Always visually inspect the stalls/restaurants before you decide to eat there:
Flies, dirty unwashed utensils, uncovered foods are a no no. Food being cooked without gloves can be risk if its not heated before serving, servers with open wounds can be a risk.
Sometimes it’s OK to be non adventurous:
Many a times when you do not know what the food consists of and you cannot risk it its OK to stick to bread, fruit, milk from supermarkets or just good old subway sandwiches or McDonald’s. Cheap but filling.
Never visit restaurants/stalls in off peak hours:
You maybe served food that is gone bad. This one time I visited my regular restaurant for dosa and chutney and ended up with a bad tummy. I later figured out that the coconut chutney gets prepared at 4am or 5am and I had visited at 10pm and probably was their last customer and the chutney which was prepared in the morning could have expired unless it was reheated.
Never eat deep fried food when the oils from which they are fried in smell rancid:
It’s best to eat fried food in moderation especially while travelling. Also avoid fried foods that smell rancid as the oils could have been reused.
What to eat or carry while travelling:
If you are setting out on a journey via plane, bus, train always avoid gorging on deep fried foods as it tends to unsettle stomachs during bumpy rides especially if you suffer from motion sickness. Best to travel on an empty stomach or devour light foods – fruits, non spicy foods, fruit juices and preferably no milk to further avoid unsettling your tummy.
Always carry some mints, lemon, essential oils whatever that imparts freshness and calms your unsettling stomach and probably over the counter drugs to stop motion sickness like avomin tablets available in India.
Don’t try to explore local cuisine in railway stations, bus stations in India:
These are not the best places to try cuisines, they are hardly even authentic and the level of cleanliness can be highly questionable. Also avoid buying foods or water bottles made available on train journeys unless sealed.
If you have food allergies be extra cautious in India:
Street food and even restaurants do not really write about the oils used and the ingredients in detail and you cannot risk it if you have peanut allergies, lactose intolerance etc. Best to stick to packaged known foods.