Golas are flavoured ice candies, and a popular treat during the hot tropical summers. These are similar to snow cones and shaved ice. While these syrupy delights sold on the streets do provide respite from the heat, several factors make it an unhealthy choice. The water used to make ice golas can’t be trusted, as the ice bars could’ve been stored in insanitary places and the food colouring used may not meet food safety standards.
A basic rule of thumb to follow when travelling in India is to never ever drink tap water. Unsafe tap water contains Escherichia coli or E.coli, a strain of bacteria known to cause diarrhoea, as well as other harmful chemical contaminations. It is best to carry a bottle of mineral water at all times. Even in restaurants, order mineral water instead of opting for regular water. Prevention is always better than cure.
Fruit juice stalls are regular features in Indian cities, and the fresh and colourful fruits can be quite tempting. However, most street vendors use tap water to make the juices. Also, whether they wash the fruit properly is anyone’s guess.
Gol gappe, also called pani-puri or puchkas, are a much-loved street food in India. They are made of small deep-fried crispy breads that are hollow in the middle and filled with stuffing and flavoured water. Although delicious, the issue of contaminated water arises again. Unless the source of the flavoured water is known, it is best to steer clear of gol gappe.
It’s not just the fresh fruit juices that needs to be treated with suspicion, but the fruits themselves too. For instance, it is common knowledge that chemical wax is used on apples to make them shine. Always wash fruit meticulously before eating to remove pesticides and other impurities. Fruits like bananas and oranges, which can be peeled, should be given preference over others.
For the same reason as raw fruit, it is a good idea to stay away from salads, except if you’re certain the vegetables have been thoroughly washed. The presence of pathogens on unwashed veggies can lead to E. coli infection and cause food poisoning.
Any meat from a street food vendor cannot be fully relied upon. Stale meat can lead to a number of digestive, urinary and other disorders. Instead of meaty street foods, try great non-vegetarian Indian dishes (like biryani, kebab and rogan josh) from trusted restaurants.
Paan masalas come in brightly coloured packages and are usually marketed as mouth fresheners. This mixture of areca nut, tobacco, slaked lime and other flavoring agents is a known carcinogen. It is even said to impair DNA. Actor Pierce Brosnan was once at the centre of a huge controversy when he featured in an Indian ad for paan masala. He later apologised, saying he was deceived by the brand and thought he was endorsing a breath freshener and tooth whitener.
This does not apply to all kinds of cheeses, but specifically to the loose ones sold and used in places where hygiene standards look questionable. It is easy for cheese to be contaminated with bacteria like staphylococcus aureus, which can be hard to detect as it occurs without showing any signs of spoilage. This bacteria can cause food poisoning, diarrhoea and dehydration.
Samosas, pakora and kachoris are some of the calorie-laden street foods that should be avoided. The main issue with these deep fried snacks is that they are mostly cooked in reheated oil. Such oil is associated with increased risks of cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, liver disorders and carcinogenic properties.
Notorious as the hottest chilli pepper known to mankind, bhut jolokia should be avoided by anyone unaccustomed to spicy food. These chillies, grown in the northeastern state of Nagaland, are so fiery that they’ve even been used to make tear gases by the Indian Army. Bhut Jolokias do add tons of flavour and it’s fine to try out dishes which contain minute quantities of the chilli, but even then do proceed with serious caution!