Thursday, October 11, 2012

How to Eat Raw Foods in India

I never realized the importance and significance of raw foods in the American diet. (Or possibly just the Southern American diet.) We eat far more raw foods here in the US than we realize or than the world gives us credit for. Just look at a menu at any American restaurant and you will see many different types of salad listed. Our salads are not like the Indian "green salad" at all. Salads have become an art in the US.

Here's a few examples of the raw foods Americans eat for you:

  • Salsa
  • Vegetable salads
  • Fruit salads
  • Veggie trays
  • Bean sprouts
  • Ants on a log (celery with raisins on it)
  • Fruits and berries (strawberries, apples, oranges, pomegranate, etc.)
  • Most veggies (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrots, onions, radishes, celery, etc.) 
  • Nuts
  • Oil (Olive, coconut, etc. when used as a flavoring and not as a cooking agent)
  • Sashimi (Japanese raw fish dish)
  • Rare steaks - some eat them fully rare (the definition of raw food is that it is NOT cooked to a temperature of 104F/40C or higher)
  • Caviar
  • Spices and herbs (like parsley, basil, oregano, etc.) 
  • Chili peppers
  • Oysters and other shellfish
There's probably a lot more that I'm not able to think of at the moment. Leave me a comment with anything I missed. 

It's not safe for a foreigner to eat raw foods in India. Even if you wash them, it's highly recommended by most doctors (both in the US and India) that you cook the food first. This is because of the bacteria and parasites in the food that your body is not used to. But there are things you can do to make the foods safe and still eat them raw. 

  1. Never eat pre-sliced or cut fruits and vegetables from the street vendors. This includes the men with their own little stalls as well as those walking around tourist destinations. It's also advisable not to eat the 'green salad' or any other raw vegetables at restaurants early in your stay.
  2. Purchase foods only from vendors you or your Indian in-laws trust. There are rumors and reports of vendors who inject their foods with chemicals or other substances that can make you sick.
  3. Soak the foods in water right before you use them. (Don't wash them and store them in the fridge as this could allow other bacteria to form.) Cover them with water so that nothing sticks up above the surface. Change the water after about an hour and then soak again. After 1 hour, drain them. 
  4. Peel fruits and vegetables yourself. Items like pomegranates, apples and nuts are safe if you wash them then peel them.
  5. Squeeze lemon juice over vegetables or fruits and toss to coat. Let them sit for a few minutes. The acid in the lemon kills bacteria and cleans the veggies. You can rinse it off or eat the veggies with the lemon juice still on them. If you rinse them, rinse them in cold water.
If you have any symptoms of Delhi belly (aka "loose motions") then avoid eating cucumbers altogether and add raw bananas to your diet.

What are some other tips you can share for eating raw foods in India (for a foreigner)?
What raw foods did you have to avoid while in India?


  1. Also beware of-
    - Raw cilantro/coriander sprinkled over entrees at restaurants in India- great way to get hookworms/amoebiasis
    -Chutneys made of raw vegetables, such as 'hari chutney', raw tomato based chutneys, or raw fruit based chutneys (i.e. mango)

    It isn't safe to simply wash fresh fruits & vegetables with just water in India, due to the lack of sanitation & lack of potable drinking water.
    The best away to minimize the microbes present on fresh produce in India is to soak the fruits & vegetables in a salt & vinegar solution. Place the vegetables in a clean container with just enough warm water to cover them, add about 4 tablespoons vinegar plus 2 tablespoons salt per quart of water, allow to soak for 30 minutes.

  2. Thank you so much for this post. I really wasn't looking forward to spending four months eating soggy veggies and deep fried foods.

  3. Interesting, I don't think I ever had the raw cilantro or coriander sprinkled over my food but, I rarely ate anything that called for the kind of garnish. But, that doesn't mean I wouldn't have missed it sometimes when I wasn't thinking.

    I washed most of my veggies in bottled water. I wasn't aware of the salt and vinegar solution. I'm not sure I would have used our vinegar in the house though (as opposed to the store bought) because it was rebottled and sold to us in the street markets. It didn't look safe to me.

    Thanks for the tip. I'm sure it will be quite useful to many people.

  4. Amelia @eslmarriageOctober 11, 2012 at 1:41 PM

    Wow, great list! Another biggie is ice cream. As tempting as kulfi is, ice cream is often made with milk (which isn't boiled) and can lead to a very upset stomach!

  5. Oh yeah, I almost forgot-
    Keep your fingernails clipped short!

  6. Oh yes! Good one. I can't believe I forgot it as well. I had to keep them short in India because the dirt and herbs never would wash out if they grew.

  7. Hey there! You know, I've been living here 18 months now and have never thought twice about eating raw foods. I rinse my veggies quickly under a stream of water but that's about it. I eat watermelon with chili pepper from the street vendors. Buy my juice fresh from the local kiosk around the corner. In fact, I always giggle inside when expats talk about how they brush their teeth with bottled water and avoid raw foods. Didn't realise there was something to their logic until I read your article. I don't plan to change but will count us lucky we've never been 'bugged' by it til now ;-) xo

  8. You are lucky indeed! I drank the water an lived to tell the story the first time I visited Amritsar as well lol. When I moved there though I would only drink bottled water. I still cooked with tap water and showered in it even though experts recommend against it.

    I started out using the lemon juice on my raw veggies but then gradually got tired of it. I was staying sick anyway so I don't know how much it helped either. At least I know I didn't get hepatitis or anything serious and eventually I did build up a tolerance to some of the germs I faced there.