Chancing street food in India

A friend in Delhi told us to never eat anything in India unless it is cooked and hot. This would have kept us totally healthy on our first trip, Nov. 14-Dec. 21, 2004, but we would have missed out on a lot of the best of India.

We took some measured risks, eating some street food, some room-temperature buffets and some uncooked deserts but no raw milk products (risk of T.B.) and no fresh fruit or vegetables unless we could wash them in bottled water and peel them ourselves.

On trip number two, Dec. 28, 2005-Feb. 7, 2006, we took even more chances and still stayed basically healthy. We chewed the occasional Pepto Bismol tablet when we felt a belly rumble. (I disagree vehemently with the reader who said that she took these tablets daily as a prophylactic measure; I asked our travel doctor and pharmacist about that, and both said it was bad practice.)

On trip number three, Jan. 28-March 8, 2007, we were semi-suicidal. We bought kulfi, an Indian ice cream made with, hopefully, “toned” pasteurized milk. We bought lassi, a yogurt drink made with water (although we would order it without water, they have to make it with water, I think). We ate in roadside dhabas (basic restaurants) that didn’t look especially clean but were the only sources of food available. (We could have relied on our granola bars, but we enjoyed the risk.) And we ate street food.

We were fine.

Yes, we got sick, but it was a bad cold we caught from our driver, not some illness from bad food.

It was on trip number three that we ate at the dhaba Hotel Neelkamal. (“Hotel” is another word for restaurant in India.) Patronized mostly by truckers, it was the only place for lunch on the road between Simlipal National Park in Orissa and Bishnupur in West Bengal. One side of the building was open to the parking lot and the dust from the passing traffic. I am quite certain we would not have eaten here on our first trip, and on our second trip our wonderful and very protective driver probably would not have let us eat here.

We each had a veg thali for Rs20 (less than a dollar for the two of us) and drank our own Dazzle bottled water. We were just fine.

All of our trips were independent travel arranged through Swagatam Tours & Travels (203, Swagatam Chamber, 23-A, Shivaji Marg, Najafgarh Road, Moti Nagar, New Delhi 110015, India; phone 91 11 25444000, fax 25444010 or visit


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