Is India Delhi belly inevitable? I traveled in India for three weeks and I didn’t get sick once.
Many people believe that the key to eating safely in India is to stick to hotels and resorts. Thankfully I partnered with Pepto Bismol in India and brought the pills everywhere.
Yes I ate everywhere, from street food in Old Delhi to local restaurants in Kerala.
But I didn’t follow the standard advice. In fact I broke many rules.
I wanted to share my experience, and explain what is Delhi belly, how to avoid Delhi belly and why you should bring Pepto Bismol to India.
How to Avoid India Delhi Belly
I went to India with the false perception that getting sick was inevitable.
Many friends were worried because I’ve been known to try anything and everything in a country.
And while I was prepared to take precautions on this trip I didn’t want to miss out on food.
Only eating in hotel restaurants was not an option. In fact, if you speak to experience travelers they will tell you that their worst case of upset stomach is often from a restaurant hotel.
I’m not saying all hotel restaurants are bad, but I’d take a crowded street food stall over a hotel buffet any day.
But eating in India opened my eyes to eating safely. I wanted to share my advice because I don’t think many people talk about the real reason people get sick.
Ease Yourself In
It can be so tempting to try everything right away. But your body may not be accustomed to all the different spices and flavours.
It doesn’t matter what country you’re eating in, a drastic change of diet is a stress on the stomach.
If you land in Delhi on a hot day complete with jet lag and try to eat a bunch of new dishes with ghee or spices your stomach is going to hurt.
Despite common advice, fried food isn’t always your friend. It can be the most dangerous. Sure it’s hot but often the oil is reused and can be old.
As well, some people cook with oils your body may not be used to, and your body may react.
Carry Pepto-Bismol Tablets
It’s something I use and recommend.
I like it because it’s not just for diarrhea but it’s five symptom relief includes nausea, heartburn, indigestion and upset stomach.
In the middle of a great meal, the last thing we want to worry about is the potential for an upset stomach.
Eating is my life and so I need to be prepared. Sometimes when traveling you experience an upset stomach and the tablets help.
On the Maharajas Express I gave several people a Pepto-Bismol tablet as they were experiencing upset stomachs from their lunch that day, which helped all their stomachs feel much more at ease during the trip.
To ensure this product is right for you, always read and follow the label.
Pro-Tip: if you’re traveling with people bring extra because once people know you have them you’ll be asked for them.
Eat With Locals
I didn’t just head to Old Delhi to start eating everything on the street. I took a street food tour and I trusted my guide Deepak.
He knew the area and which places were the most popular and hygienic.
Although he did tease me for only eating a bite or two of each dish – that’s because I knew we had a lot to eat!
Later I stayed with the Spice Circuit in Kerala where I ate a lot of food. Many Indian homes now have a machine to distill water to drink and cook. If not they boil the water.
If you visit a local restaurant that is serving a pink or green tinted water it means that it was boiled with a herb. It’s often still served warm and many older people prefer it as a hot drink.
When in doubt ask. It’s not just foreigners that choose distilled water.
Start with Vegetables
Nearly 30% of India’s population is vegetarian and so India has so many great vegetarian options.
If you’re wary of street food start with vegetarian options which are easy to digest.
Wash Your Hands Often
People don’t do this enough. Before any meal you should wash your hands well. This means lathering up with soap while singing happy birthday then putting them under the water.
Don’t just put soap on your hands and immediately wash it away.
Use Hand Sanitizer
After touching anything from a door handle to my face I’d use hand sanitizer.
I personally believe a lot of people get sick from touching something rather than the food itself.
Eat with Your Hands
Do like the locals do and eat with your hands. They will tell you it changes the experience as you’re more connected with your food.
Also, you can avoid using utensils that may not have been cleaned with filtered water.
Not confident with your hands? Many street food stalls offer disposable plates and wooden utensils.
Or if you’re really worried you can travel with your own spork.
Hot as Hell is a Good Thing
Chai (aka tea) is a part of the culture and I did not want to miss out drinking it on the street.
But it comes scalding hot, which is good because you know it’s safe. Unfortunately I don’t want to burn off all my taste buds.
Fortunately on the street they use a technique of cooling it down by transferring it from cup to cup. It’s frothy and makes for a great photo (see above).
Clean Your Phone Several Times a Day
Your phone is disgusting. Use sanitizing wipes to clean it often.
Eat like an Indian
Eating is an art and it involves many different dishes that not only serve a function of flavour but also balance and health.
If you’re eating a Thali (various small dishes served on a platter) do not skip the yogurt curd or rasam (spicy broth). These dishes appear often and help balance your stomach.
You’ll also see Indians drinking lemon water. It’s served either with water or club soda with sweet syrup or salt. They drink it every day to help balance acidic levels.
Probiotics are Your Friend
I normally eat yogurt every day when I travel but this time I stepped it up.
However, I started taking probiotic pills a month before my trip to get my stomach in proper balance before I traveled.
I ate the yogurt curd served with every meal and there are some delicious yogurt drinks like chaas.
Have the Right Attitude
When I asked Deepak for his advice eating street food he gave the most practical advice.
If you live your life thinking you will get sick, then you will get sick.
It makes a lot of sense and I stopped fearing every odd movement in my stomach.
I didn’t visit during the hot season but I still found it to be warm and very dry. It is very easy to become dehydrated in India.
So many travelers avoid drinking enough water for fear of not finding an adequate washing but you’re much better off drinking water and learning how to use a squat toilet.
Water helps you digest food better and you’ll feel better.
If you are worried that the water you may be drinking isn’t safe ask for mineral water. It’s sold everywhere and easy to find.
Plan Ahead with Vaccinations
Don’t risk your health for the sake of a shoestring budget. Get the necessary vaccinations like Hep A and B, typhoid and get a tetanus shot.
Cures for Delhi Belly
Although I did not get sick I did ask Wilson from The Spice Circuit for his best advice on what to do if you get sick with India Delhi belly.
Aside from the Pepto-Bismol and other medication Indians are in tune with how to naturally remedy an upset stomach.
- Ask for lemon water with soda, the carbonation will help your stomach.
- Reduce dairy, especially milk.
- Stick to mild foods like rice with curd or lentil dal. Eat with bread or plain rice.
- Stick to fruits to rehydrate (wash them with distilled water)
- Listen to locals about what will make you feel better. Spices not only add flavour but also have medicinal properties so if someone offers you a broth or a carbonated lemon drink, take it.
- If it gets really bad, you can get Cipro over the counter in India. Although there are excellent doctors in India so start there.
Now it’s your turn. What is your best advice for keeping your stomach safe on the road and avoiding India Delhi Belly?
This post about India Delhi belly is sponsored by Pepto-Bismol. I use their liquid product at home and always travel with their chewable tablets.