Coming from a rich culinary heritage, I’ve always believed that food is an inherent part of culture. From the sizzling woks to the flavours that burst forth with every bite, food opens doors and offers an insight to the people and history of the region. This is especially true for India, where every state has its own distinct traditions and tastes. And yet, many tourists tend to give up on this experience for the fear of an unhappy stomach; others end up on a toilet bowl. But with a little bit of luck and smarts, there are ways to keep the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’ away.
You know the general rules: wash your hands regularly, drink only bottled water, stay hydrated, don’t eat cut or exposed foods, etc. Now include these to the list and prepare for an incredible gastronomic journey.
Ease yourself into Indian cuisine
When you arrive in the country, don’t dive straight into the chicken biryani. Your digestive system may need some time and conditioning to accept a new food tradition. Start with light vegetarian meals. These tend to be easy on the stomach, and are a treat for the taste buds. Gradually move to cooked meats; meat is always thoroughly cooked in India, which makes it completely safe to consume. And last but not the least, hop on to the roller coaster that is Indian fast food
Not all Indian food is doused in spice. And not all Indian food is curry! There is a variety of Indian foods that are low on spice, high on taste and suitable to every palate. Try the Dosa. A type of rice crepe, it is eaten in combination with chutneys, spiced potatoes, chicken or on its own. It can make for a light breakfast or a filling meal.
Friendly Foods and Fires
A cup of yogurt goes a long way in India. It keeps the body cool and healthy, and it allows the stomach to ease into (and out of) a heavy meal. Wash your meals down with yogurt based drinks like buttermilk (known as chaas and available in plain, salted and spiced flavours) and the ever popular lassi (available in salty and sweet flavours and with fruit).
Milk is generally unpasteurized in India, so if you start your mornings with cereal and cold milk, you will need a plan B. All Indian milk based preparations, be it complicated desserts or a simple cup of tea, involve boiling of the milk, which makes the milk safe for consumption.
For that Queasy Feeling
If you begin to feel queasy and uncomfortable, and chances are that you will at one point or another, opt for natural therapies. Antibiotics sap away energy, and bring along a host of other issues. Instead take a chance on ginger. This common kitchen ingredient helps alleviate nausea, stomach disorders and motion sickness. Drink a cup of strong ginger tea or chew on a piece of fresh ginger. A banana also helps soothe the stomach and stomach ailments, while providing the body with much needed energy.
Don’t psyche yourself into diarrhoea. Being afraid of everything on a plate will get you nowhere, but a local pharmacy in search of anti-anxiety meds (and before you freak out, you will have to settle for the Indian variants). Be careful, but not paranoid. Stick to your limits, but don’t limit yourself. Experience everything, binge on nothing.
(cross-posted at Matador)