Indian Street Food vs. My Digestive System

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.

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The Great British Seaside (& How to Enjoy it Like a Brit)

During my stay in England, I spent some lovely time with my grandparents who live on the Dorset coast. “Oh, I do like to be besides the seaside!”, I have so many childhood memories of the seaside, staying with my grandparents and taking the train to the beach during my summer holidays. I was really excited to see my grandparents, and excited to see the sea. I had lived in the middle of India for a year, I missed the big blue!

Sea air is good for the soul (and the body), I always sleep so well after being close to the sea. The air is so clean, away from the roads and has tiny droplets of sea water which is enriched with salt, iodine, magnesium and trace elements. It was good to breathe this salty air and taste it on my lips, especially after living in the dusty Indian air for so long.

Our winter walks along the Dorset coast, otherwise known as the Jurassic coast, were wonderful and refreshing. The Jurassic coast is beautiful, the crumbling cliffs reveal 185 million years of history, transformed by ice ages and changing sea levels. When I was a child, I used to spend hours searching for fossils on the beach.

My photos of the Dorset coast:

seaside british english coast winter beach sandcastles culture UK

Lyme Regis

seaside british english coast winter beach sandcastles culture UK

Lyme Regis

seaside british english coast winter beach sandcastles culture UK jurassic coast

Jurassic Coast

west bay boat

West Bay

(You might recognise this beach from the TV series Broadchurch!)

(You might recognise this beach from the TV series Broadchurch!)

Brits tend to swarm to the seaside and strip down to their bikinis and start sunbathing as soon as the sun pops out from behind a cloud. 25°C in England sees men strolling around the place topless, trying to get a suntan. Meanwhile, 25°C in India means the woolly jumpers come out of the closet, everyone is cold. It’s very funny, us Brits get so excited over a little bit sunshine. Now that I’ve been in a 50°C summer, British summers seem so mild, that is if they happen at all. Britain can be the place that summer forgot. On the other hand, rain, rain never forgets Britain.

During these ‘hot days’ in England, there is nothing more enjoyable that a trip to the seaside. There are several traditional things that you must do to get the full British seaside experience:

  • Build sandcastles.
  • Have a picnic on the beach and then complain when sand finds it’s way into your sandwiches.
  • Write your name in the sand.
  • Play on the addictive 2p slot machines in the arcades on the pier and feel like you’re the champion of the world you win a jackpot (even though the jackpot is about 20p, and you spent about £3 getting there).
  • Take a ride on a donkey along the beach (my favourite as a child).
  • Watch a Punch and Judy puppet show on the sand.
  • Catch crabs in rock pools.
  • Roll up your trousers, paddle in the waves and complain how cold the sea is.
  • Eat fish and chips on the seafront, whilst protecting them from seagulls who will try to steal them (the equivalent in India? That monkey who stole my corn).

Now, some photos from around the internet to show the highlights of the Great British seaside…

Warm day? (photo credit: aol.co.uk)

(photo credit: timetour.co.uk)

Donkey rides! (photo credit: the guardian.com)

Pesky seagulls! (photo credit: the guardian.com)

Two pence slot machines! (photo credit: flickr.com)

Punch and Judy puppet shows (photo credit: spyrock.com)

I’m flying home to India tomorrow…

Six weeks have flown by so fast and I cannot believe it’s time for me to leave England! Tomorrow in India, it won’t just be me flying in the sky, it’s Makar Sankranti which is a Hindu harvest festival celebrated by flying pretty kites! You can read about my experience of the festival last year, here!

I’ve had a wonderful time celebrating Christmas and seeing family and friends across the south of England. I’m just so grateful to everyone who made an effort to see me whilst I’ve been back, love you all! I am going to miss everyone, especially my Mummy but I know that I’ll be back soon (hopefully with my husband next time!).

So, as I check I have everything packed and wait until it’s time to leave for the airport, I feel really blessed that I could come back to England for these six weeks. Not only have I had the opportunity to see the people I love, I have been able to take a step back from life in India to process the past year with its ups and downs.

See you in India!

P.S. I have several more posts about my time in England coming soon, I cannot wait to share them with you!

Hot Chocolate for Bhabhi

As I stood waiting for a train, something I’ve done often during my trip to England, I fancied something warm! After my year of hot Indian weather, this Great British weather is, not so great. So, what’s more heart and soul warming than hot chocolate? I followed my chocolate addiction and cold hands to the nearest coffee shop and asked for a small hot chocolate.

The barista picked up a large cup and started making my hot chocolate. “Oh, no, sorry, I wanted a small hot chocolate”. The barista, an Indian guy, carried on making it. “Um…”, I didn’t really know what to say after that, I only had enough money for a small hot chocolate in my purse. A bit awkward, I was worried he didn’t understand me.  I could see the stack of small cups so it wasn’t that they had run out of those. Oh dear, what’s going on!

“Don’t worry Bhabhi, it’s a free upgrade because you’re my Bhabhi“, the barista said with a huge smile. He had noticed my mangalsutra and the small touch of sindoor in my hair. After saying “thank you” and “are you sure?” several times and giving him a high five (I don’t know where the high five came from, I am not a regular high fiver), I enjoyed my hot chocolate and caught my train. Small acts of kindness are so beautiful!

Only hours before, my friend and I were eating dessert in a restaurant and the waiter, who wasn’t Indian, told me he liked my sindoor and asked how long I’ve been married. This all happened in multicultural London, my sindoor is often met with confusion in the part of England I am from. People usually think I have a head injury!

(Bhabhi means ‘elder brother’s wife’)