1. Don’t drink tap water
Obviously, enough said. Don’t freak out too much about that scene in Slumdog Millionaire where tourists buy bottled water straight out of the tap. Packaged water is fine, just check the cap to make sure it’s sealed. Keep a bottle of drinking water handy for brushing your teeth. And importantly, watch out for ice in drinks.
2. Don’t eat meat
India is a country of vegetarians, where cooking vegetables has been elevated to an art. You’re not going to miss beef, pork or chicken, even though it is widely available. Relish the veggie curries, and stay clear of potentially contaminated meats. There are plenty of live cows running about to keep you close to the beef you love.
3. Don’t eat uncooked cheese
Cheese is heaven for nasty microbes. A friend of mine was doing great until she sprinkled some Parmesan on a pasta dish and spent the next 72 hours expelling fluids from every orifice. Paneer is fine – it’s an Indian cheese cooked in many amazing curries. And pizza should be OK, so long as the cheese has boiled at some point.
4. Don’t eat eggs
Leave the sunny-side-up for treats back home. An undercooked egg will tie your intestine into a sailor knot.
5. Don’t drink milk
For some reason, most travellers deal well with lassi, the delicious yoghurt-based drink. It has been known to be mixed with tap water and ice, so use your judgement. Since dairy farming refrigeration is sometimes not up the standards you’re used to, milk is a risky business. Do your gut a favour, take your coffee black.
6. Don’t eat fish unless you see it caught and cooked
On the coast, fish doesn’t come fresher, although you may want to make sure that’s the case first. Uncooked or fish left standing in the heat too long is going to swim in and out of you faster than Michael Phelps.
7. Don’t eat uncooked vegetables, peel your fruit
Fortunately, most vegetables are cooked in curries so delicious your taste buds will dance a Bollywood musical. Peeling fruit is a wise choice. If you’re washing stuff, make sure you do it with packaged water.
8. Eat in restaurants that cater to tourists/wealthier Indians
A place with a good reputation and steady clientele usually knows the value of good hygiene, and the importance of keeping itself recommended in the guidebooks. When it comes to dining out, it pays to follow the advice of those who have come before you. The only time I ate meat was at a famous international hotel and it was fine. I know you’re dying to eat street food like the locals, just be aware that locals can handle things in their tummies you probably can’t.
9. Wash/sanitize your hands regularly, and especially before eating
Just like your momma taught you.
10. Trust Your Gut
You could follow all of this religiously and still get sick. Or you can meet travellers who don’t follow any of this and do just fine. Everyone’s system is different. However, being paranoid about what you’re eating will definitely rob you of having an awesome experience. India is no place for Nervous Nellies. The best way to deal with the sensory overload of color, smell, noise and people is to relax, be patient, keep a sense of humour, and listen to what your gut is telling you.