Backstory, when I was 17 I made the mistake of eating actual food–not ice cream–at the local DQ. Cue 12 + hours cursing myself for being so stupid as I hugged the toilet of a friend’s parents’ bathroom. From then on, every year, sometimes multiple times a year, I spend hours getting to know the curves of my bathroom toilet intimately due to severe bouts of noro/rota/gastroentestinitis/food poisoning, god knows what hellish virus. I would classify myself as having a sensitive stomach.
I like to think I approach every new opportunity with an open mind, but the warnings and horror stories I heard from friends and acquaintances upon asking about their experience in India were enough to make me nervous. So, I essentially approached this move prepared for stomach issues. I even shipped the special soft toilet paper to be rationed for the difficult periods. That being said, I also don’t want such paranoia to affect my daily life when and where possible.
In my research, these are the various theories for avoiding the so called “Delhi Belly”:
1. Do not drink the water. Do not use it to cook or wash vegetables with. Do not use it to brush teeth with.
My reality: Everyone in my family uses unfiltered tap water to brush teeth. I never drink the tap water, only store bought. I go back and forth with cooking, veggies that will eventually be boiled are washed with tap water. Otherwise I use water that I have pre-boiled and store in a large jug on my kitchen counter.
2. At a restaurant ask for your food cooked piping hot. Never eat food from a street vendor. Eat at well known, “expensive” restaurants, especially places where you can see the kitchen. Cook at home.
My reality: I’ve never asked for my food to be extra well heated. I can’t get over how presumptuous it feels. The majority of restaurants I eat out at are considered nice. BUT! We still have not received any of our cookware from Japan, so takeout has become a go to. 90% of the time I end up ordering from restaurants I’ve never seen, and often the food is cheap, cheap–like 500 rupees (about 8 dollars) for two full meals. I haven’t been brave enough to do a street food tour, but I won’t let the prospect of a little tummy ache stop me from it when the time comes.
3. Always sanitize hands before eating. Bring sanitary wipes just in case.
My reality: Yes, the hands are always sanitized before eating. But I’m not picky enough to bring wipes along for chairs/silverware, what have you.
Within the first week I had my first sleepless night of stomach issues followed by a fever the next day. I don’t know the exact cause, either McDonald’s lettuce (a moment of weakness) or my own failure at washing the vegetables well enough for a pasta I made at home (using our one warped pan).
Since then I’d say on average once a week I am having stomach issues. Not the best odds, but not bad enough end up in the H-O-S-P-I-T-A-L (superstitious knock on wood).
Summary, I’m more sensitive than most, and by no means the most careful person when it comes to avoiding potential causes of stomach issues in India, so I am having some problems. Nothing I wasn’t prepared for though. On the flipside, my 2 year-old-sidekick has had zero problems. In fact, her tummy seems to be doing better here than in Japan! So, while I can’t say this stereotype turned out to be all hype for me, I can say it ain’t that bad. Anyone else?