Food is what brings the world together. I love trying new foods, especially when it is enjoyed in the country of origin. However, our bodies are generally not designed to carelessly eat whatever we want, wherever we want.
Each country or region has their own set of bacteria that is found in the food (yes, all foods have some bacteria in it – sorry). You have generally become accustom to the bacteria in the region that you live in just by eating the food there regularly. That being said, when you travel to another country, it takes some time for your body to get used to the new bacteria.
The other issue is the water. Most of the western countries (such as the USA and Europe) have regulations on the water supply, and let’s face it, most of us end up drinking filtered or bottled water anyway. In places like India, the water regulation seems less strict, meaning that street food may or may not be washed with bottled water. Considering how expensive bottled or filtered water is, I would venture to say it is likely not used frequently. Like I said, locals have become accustomed to the water supply in their area, but your body does not have that kind of experience yet. So, if you do happen to try something that was washed in non-bottled water, you will likely spend a lot of quality time with Mr. Toilet.
Pro tip: Only eat or drink fully cooked foods.
You can try local fruits and vegetables if you have washed and peeled them yourself (with bottled water). You could potentially eat them at some of the nicer hotels, but in general, I would try to avoid them. I’m not sure it is worth the suffering.
In case that you end up with diarrhea, the important thing is to make sure you stay hydrated. You can lose a lot of fluids in a short period of time, which can dehydrate you.
One final point, be prepared. A little planning goes a long way when it comes to traveling. Bring a small pouch with important medications for these types of situations. Examples include:
Pepto bismal – there are small, individually wrapped pills. I would avoid the large liquid bottles if possible.
Acid Reducer – Zantac (ranitidine) is a popular one, but any of the OTC acid reducers are fine. These are esepcially useful in India, where spice is literally the spice of life and almsot everything you eat will have some spice and heat to it (not the best thing for your stomach)
Tums – another option for acid reflux, comes in tablet forms and can quickly calm that naggy, burning sensation after a large meal.
Prescriptions that you can ask your family doctor about include: zofran (nausea) and ciprofloxacin (antibiotic used for traveler’s diarrhea). Remember to consult your family doctor before taking any new medications.
All of this to say – enjoy the delicious, flavorful foods of India, just be mindful about where you are getting it from.