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Top Tips to Avoid the Streetfood “Delhi Belly” Syndrome

Do you really want to know?

For those who are used to travelling and are adventurous in terms of food, there is inevitably the risk of contracting “Delhi Belly”*. I’ve certainly gotten my fair share of it in China, Vietnam, Bangkok and Turkey.  I guess I must have taken enough precautions in India due to the notoriety of the cleanliness of the food preparation/water to fortunately avoid getting traveler’s diarrhea in the place which derives its name.

My Chinese experience was actually at a decent seafood restaurant in Yantai.  We were treated to boiled crabs, and everyone including the host was struck down with diarrhea immediately after.  The diarrhea attack was actually worse for my dinner mates which chose to abstain from wine during dinner.  The host had it the worst as she had to hospitalised!

In Vietnam, it was an unfortunate case of diarrhea and purging.  It was really distressing to have spent half my holiday on the throne and my head in the waste bin.  The culprit was two slices of cut dragonfruit prepared on a junk boat in the middle of Halong Bay. It was unfortunate to be downed by fruit when I was busily tucking into Bún Chả which was served right next to the restroom and not get ill.

With a wealth of fortunate and unfortunate experiences with food abroad, I’ve summarised my top tips for avoiding traveler’s diarrhea when indulging in street food (or any food for that matter) :

1. Avoid iced drinks – The water used to make the ice cubes is probably not boiled.  I had a slip in Bangkok’s Jatujak market when I took a slip of my pal’s iced chrysanthemum drink. There is nothing worse than having diarrhea than having TWO diarrhea-afflicted people share a hotel room and fighting for the toilet!

2. Avoid tap water – I think this is obvious.  I know people who take this to the extreme and brush their teeth with bottled water in India.  Watch the backyard re-bottled water.  It is known to happen in India and Indonesia where used water bottles are collected and refilled with tap water.  So to be safe, inspect the cap properly.

3. Avoid cut fruit – It’s the water that was used to rinse the fruit and the possibility of flies and other bacteria borne insects settling on the cut fruit that makes it a risky endeavour to indulge in the local fruit.  If you have to eat fruit, make sure that it is a whole piece of fruit (e.g. banana, apple) which you can clean and peel yourself.

4. Avoid cold seafood – That was what happened in Yantai.  The crabs were boiled and set aside on a plate.  By the time it was served it was no longer hot and steaming. I guess this will apply also to buffet lines which have gone cold.

5. Alcoholic insurance – I find that if you drink a glass or two of wine with your food, the risk of contracting diarrhea is less as alcohol kills bacteria.  However, your alcoholic drink will be rendered useless if there are bacteria-filled ice cubes in it!

6. Hot food is the best – That steaming bowl of noodles is probably safe, and so is the deep fried spring roll or grill fish.  Make sure it is still hot while you eat it and not sitting on a tray for a couple of hours attracting flies and collecting dirt.

7. Carry your medications – I never leave the country without a new tab of Lomotil (Diphenoxylate) or Imodium (Loperamide), and charcoal.  It really comes in handy when you have to board a plane or get on a bus for 10 hours.

Be adventurous and safe! Fortunately, I’ve never gotten struck down with diarrhea in Penang despite eating in some pretty funky places, but then again locals have immunity, don’t they?

*Delhi Belly = Travelers’ Diarrhea

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One Response to “Top Tips to Avoid the Streetfood “Delhi Belly” Syndrome”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Penang Street Food, Penang Street Food. Penang Street Food said: Going on Xmas #holiday soon? Here r tips 2 avoid coming down with a stomach bug on local #streetfood. Indulge… http://fb.me/wBqWD7D3 [...]

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