I really thought after over fifteen months of living in India, my stomach would be fully prepared to battle and vanquish any invisible parasite or bacteria it found swimming in the delicious pani puri I absolutely adore eating. I seriously thought I had already suffered every shade of digestive issue possible, I won’t go into details, I really don’t want to open that can of worms. How very wrong was I. Last week, in the early hours of Tuesday morning, I came down with dysentery.
The only thing that I could recall about this hideous affliction was that several English kings, several hundred years ago died from dysentery (thank you, history class). I thought I was dying too. I was in agony and passing, what seemed to be, litres of blood. How could you lose so much of your volume and still be alive? We went to the doctor as soon as possible, nearly ten days later I still feel pretty weak. Is pani puri worth it?
My husband never has digestive system problems, his Indian stomach is as strong as a bull. I want a stomach like that! I never want to have dysentery ever again, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, but can I live a life without the deliciousness of Indian street food? Pani puri and dahi puri and pav bhaji, oh my! I’ve tried to make these dishes in my kitchen, but it’s just not the same, it’s missing something (viruses?). I have noticed that franchised outlets are opening up selling hygienic “street food”, but I am torn because I feel it is good to support the street vendors, but at what cost?
If you are travelling to India, here are some tips to maintain a loving relationship between you and your gut:
- Always drink bottled water, avoid the water served from a jug in restaurants (I’ve fallen victim to that water).
- Avoid ice in your drink. I know it’s really hard, especially in the Indian heat, but you can’t be certain that the ice isn’t habouring some frozen nastys.
- Avoid salads in restaurants, you don’t know how safe the water is that it has been washed in.
- Avoid street food. Sob. I have seen first hand that the hygiene standards are extremely low (sometimes they don’t exist at all, again, I won’t go into details). Yes, the pani puri tastes like bliss exploded inside your mouth, but there is a high chance you will suffer later.
So, if like me you have a foreign belly in incredible India, be extra careful. Drink lots of bottled water and seek medical advice if you don’t feel right. Also, research further than this post, this is definitely not a definitive list of health safety travel tips.