Enfields By Jorge Reverter
Street food in India is the classic push-pull. You want it but you’re afraid of it. It’s a fraught situation, especially when every street corner boasts small stalls serving up something that smells amazing while a crowd of Indians wolf it all down.

So what are you to do? Is it safe to order a plate of chaat or pakoras? 

The short answer is: it depends. But within a few parameters, it should be safe to eat street food in India. 

Before You Get There

There’s one thing you can do to minimize any potential adverse reactions: eat probiotics and yogurt for a week before you head to India. All stomachs are not equal. The same food can give one person Delhi Belly while others who eat it are fine. Start building up your good bacteria and your gut will thank you. 

 

Read: An article about Street Food in Kolkata.

 

Fried Food is Your Friend

Once you’re on the street, the best rule of thumb is to eat what’s freshly cooked in front of you. The heat kills most bacteria. It may not be fried in healthy olive oil but it’s better for you than the garnish. 

Avoid chutneys, they’re made with local, unfiltered water, and also spoil in the heat.  Beware, also, of the handlers. IM-er Camel Girl mentions Typhoid Mary - who never got typhoid herself but as a carrier and food handler, infected more than 50 people, you can read more about her in the Street Food in India thread. No street vendor wears gloves. It would be nice, but the truth is, the E. Coli infected local populace is more or less immune. 

Eat Where Locals Eat

The locals have better immunity, but they also have better-informed taste buds. Follow the herd, and gather with them under whichever branded umbrella they’ve chosen. Every neighborhood has its unique specialities. Seek them out. You can find some great suggestions in the Street Food in India thread in the Health and Well Being forums.

 

Read: Is it safe to eat street food in India?

 

Wash Your Hands

Washing your hands before a meal is always a good practice no matter where you are in the world and no matter what you're about to eat. Carrying hand sanitizer washing gels in a backpack or handbag comes in handy if standard soap and water is not easily available. 

Avoid the Ice in Beverages

Definitely avoid ice for the same reason: the water in India is suspect. When ordering a drink, any drink,  always specify  “No ice, please,” works nearly every time. When in doubt, leave it out. 

Rinse and Repeat

Try not to drink fresh juice or yogurt coolers in glasses that have been rinsed without soap, which, generally, is always. A good trick is to have the vendor pour the drink into an empty water bottle that you’re carrying, another good reason to carry potable water in reusable bottles, right?

 

Tea and filter coffee are generally safe - they’re practically boiled within an inch of their lives. 

What to Eat

In Delhi, Lucknow, Jaipur -- or really anywhere in the north -- it would be a sin to pass up the aaloo tikkis (potato patties), chats, chhole bhature (spiced garbanzo beans with fried dough). In the South, you should try the vadas (savory lentil doughnuts), the hoppers, dosai and idli. And in Mumbai, the list is endless. There are dabeli, frankie rolls, vada pav, and pav bhaji as well as the Mumbai Sandwich -- a phenomenon in itself -- that demands the adventurous palate's attention. Since the cold snacks have raw garnishes of onions, tomatoes and cilantro, as well as chutneys galore, try to avoid these. Bhel puri and sev puri are delicious, but they’re not worth the risk except at specialty restaurants that specify they use only bottled water for washing and for making chutneys.

 

Read: What we learned about food allergies in India.

 

Medications

Carry Pepto Bismol. If you start to feel slightly funny, many IM-ers have recommended trying some. If that still doesn’t work, and you have the runs, try a local drug called “Brake” or “Lomotil”. Make sure that you stay hydrated as well - pharmacies (called “chemists”) sell oral rehydration salts that can be mixed with bottled water, as well as ready-to-drink tetrapacks. If it’s more serious, lasts for more than a day or if it involves vomiting, definitely visit a doctor.