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5 Secrets of a Healthy Foodie on the Road

January 22, 2010

26 Comments


Breakfast in the Amazon

“How did you guys eat that?” … A surprisingly common question people ask us. I mean, this is a food and travel blog so we do try to taste a lot of different dishes, from normal local street fare to home-cooked family meals, and that does take a mixture of curiosity and bravery. Otherwise we’d have to drop the food part of the blog and stop taking pictures of all these culinary masterpieces. But we understand the fear inherent in the question, too.


Thai tea to go in Bangkok

Everyone has heard of “Delhi Belly” or “Montezuma’s Revenge” and no one wants to lay in a sweaty dorm thinking they’re going to die. On a one-year-trip, it has to happen sometime — but we didn’t want to waste 6 months of it in the bathroom so we devised and fine-tuned a sort of code of food rules which seems to work. Out of 10 months of traveling we have only really been sick once — we even made it through India unscathed (is that a Guinness Record?)


Happy and healthy, even here in India

Healthy Foodie Secret #1 — Counting Heads

It’s no big secret — even we’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: go eat somewhere busy and popular. The water has already been tested by hundreds of locals when you sit down at a cramped table at a busy street-side stall. They’re all here, and returning here, because the food is not only cheap and delicious, but also because it’s consistent and clean.


Sidewalk BBQ in Thailand


Our favorite street corner in Hong Kong

A popular place wants to maintain it’s popularity, and getting patrons sick isn’t going to get them anywhere. This is by no means to say that a quiet eatery is ladling poison pasta, but it is the most basic ammunition for making an educated guess.

Healthy Foodie Secret #2 — Tools of the Trade


Djemma al F’na Night Market in Marrakech

This one is the toughest, and can’t always be determined, or helped. The one time we did get sick in Morocco, the most likely culprits were the wet bowls and forks we ate with. The kitchen was just dunking crockery in a giant vat of reused water. Just thinking about it makes us gag. Our food was cooked fresh, but the flatware gave us a nice big spoonful of bacteria to go with it.

While we’ve watched backpackers use hand sanitizer on cutlery, and whip out their own personal set of chopsticks, there isn’t a good solution to this issue. In many Chinese restaurants, diners request a large bowl of plain boiled and steaming water which they then use to give their flatware an ad-hoc sterilization.


Tacos in Mexico

Many folks in Mexico administer a squeeze of the ubiquitous lemon or lime to their lunch, but also directly onto forks, knives, and even hands. This supposes the high acid content of the citrus juice fights off some of the worst bacteria. It’s not rocket science, but it doesn’t hurt — actually, it tastes pretty good.

Healthy Foodie Secret #3 — Hot and Cold


Maybe not the best place for juice…

Aside from tapas in Spain, and the slow-cooked delights of Greek tavernas, we never eat food that hasn’t been made fresh, right then and there. Most everything you consume should be hot, boiling or steaming. When the temperatures cross 165º, food-borne bacteria such as E. Coli dies.


Freshly made Rocoto Relleno at the market in Peru

For this reason, eating on the street is actually a pretty good thing. Most mobile vendors make simple products which are often cooked to order. Meats are grilled up fresh, eggs scramble, buns come out of the steamer and soups boil away happily, filling the avenue with nice aromas. You can usually watch the creation of a sandwich or taco from start to finish, and decide what goes in and what stays out.


Grilling up Anticuchos in Lima

If something has been sitting around, especially uncovered, stay away. Are there flies in the restaurant? Does the place smell funny? Turn around! Your nose is trying to warn you: a restaurant should smell good.

Healthy Foodie Secret #4 — Acidophilous A Day

Upset stomach and indigestion are often caused by foods which are too rich. Even we were getting stomach cramps in Eastern Europe where it’s all starch, gravy and pork roast. If you’re used to eating your greens back home, or an apple a day, stick to it — if you change the rules on your stomach, it’ll probably get a little grumpy. Maintaining some level of normalcy is the hardest part of being away from home.


Yak Yogurt in China

If you can stomach dairy, eating yogurt everyday will go a long way to keep your stomach calm and happy. Almost every nation across the globe has figured this out, and yogurt drinks appear everywhere, under many names.


Yogurt in Bulgaria

Remember the dirty plates and forks above? Eating fresh raw greens comes with a few caveats as well. The golden rule of eating on the road is “Boil it, peel it, cook it, or forget it,” right? If you’re somewhere that has you watching the water quality, opt for steamed or sautéed greens. If the cooking process is quick, all the nutrition is still there; the local cooking method might be up your alley.


Greens with garlic at Dim Sum in Hong Kong

Veggies high in fiber such as tomatos and eggplant are most beneficial. In popular tourist destinations, restaurants may claim to wash your veg in bottled water. We’re still waiting for the verdict on that. Don’t forget fruit which fits nicely into the “Peel It” category, and will give you a solid dose of fiber and vitamins.


Mangoes on the street in Mexico

Healthy Foodie Secret #5 — Prevention and Medication


Eternal happy-tummy Buddha

As far as bringing pills to combat stomach ills — we over did it, by a few pounds. We have 3 kinds of traveler’s tummy meds, and probably about 300 Cipro tablets. Of course it’s best to be prepared, but save your wallet and luggage and don’t go overboard like we did. If you’re so sick that you’re considered self-administering Cipro, don’t. Go to the doctor. A visit is quick and probably painless, while messing around with antibiotics can screw you up pretty good. A doctor abroad can write you a perscription for your best relief, or you may find it’s sold over the counter where you are. Cipro, for one, is available everywhere, and quite cheaply at that. Many countries also have medications which aren’t accessible in the States, or your home.


Dukoral oral vaccine

We researched our inoculations pretty extensively before our trip, and found that there is vaccine called Dukoral for Cholera (an oral drink, administered in 2 doses 1 week apart) which isn’t available in the US. Amusingly, there seem to be a lot of reports from subjects who receive the vaccine claiming that their overall problems with “Delhi Belly” have gone down, drastically. They call it one of the “side-effects.” Doctors are really mixed on that assumption, but we liked the sound of it. It’s worth checking out if the vaccine is offered any place you’ll be traveling to. We found some traveler clinics which operate in major metro/rail depots in London and got it there.

Check out more good info about avoiding sickness on the road from Jodi at Legal Nomads.

Comments

  1. Amy @ The Q Family says:
    January 22, 2010

    Great tips! Your pictures make my mouth watering.. :)

    Reply

  2. Shannon OD says:
    January 22, 2010

    Solid tips – and a few I should have followed more often on my trip (I got sick a lot). The hardest one for me is avoiding the raw veggies! It just made me sad to avoid apples for so long :-)

    Reply

  3. Jen Laceda says:
    January 22, 2010

    I LOVE this post! They are great reminders for adventurous travellers! Some stuff I want to add…yes, in Asian restaurants that serve tea, we pour an extra glass of tea and we always dunk our utensils in it to help in sanitaizing.

    The Acidophilus tip is a great one – keep forgetting that we have to maintain the ‘good flora’ in our stomach! Good tip!

    And regarding Dukoral…I’ve heard of this in the Philippines (growing up there). I didn’t know it is an oral med for Cholera? I believe they sell it as a stomach medicine of some sorts in the Philippines. Hmmm, have to check up on that one. And yes, Cipro has that harsh side-effect in which you end up having constipation…not a very pleasant experience we found, as we found ourselves severly sick in Phukhet, Thailand.

    Oddly enough, I just posted on my blog, “The Mind-Boggling Street Foods of the Philippines”. If you are ever in that neck of the woods, please try some of them.

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      January 24, 2010

      Oh Jen! I’m so sad we aren’t headed to the Phillippines on this trip now! :)

      The Dukoral we read about before we even left home, and it was easy to get in Europe. I wonder if the Dukoral you’ve seen is the same thing? I’ve noticed that often drugs have different names in different countries.

      Reply

  4. Ayngelina says:
    January 22, 2010

    I had never heard about yogurt! But it makes so much sense for so many reasons.

    In SEA I heard a lot of people eat 1-2 chewable TUMS each day. I don’t know how long you can do that but I have a bottle for areas that I may be more worried about.

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      January 24, 2010

      I wonder how long you can do that without coming up with another complication. But that’s not a bad plan. At the very least, having them in your bag for emergencies is a great idea.

      Reply

  5. Akila says:
    January 22, 2010

    These are all the same tips we follow when we travel. I still tend to get sick in India but, luckily, it tends to be sickness more associated with flu and allergies than stomach illness.

    One more suggestion – make sure you wash your toothbrush with bottled water. I used to do all of the above but still get sick and once I started rinsing my toothbrush with bottled water, all the stomach illnesses stopped.

    If you ever get stomach illnesses in India, there are some fantastic herbal/ayurvedic medications that work really well and are less intrusive and corrosive than traditional medicine like Cipro. The one that I really like is called Trifala but you may only be able to find it in South India.

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      January 24, 2010

      True about the toothbrushes! We were doing that in India ourselves. As far as foreign medicines go, I second that as well. I’d love to collect the names of TD meds from around the world, it would be really useful for backpackers! Like you said, many work very well, and are a lot less intense than our American options.

      Reply

  6. Fig and Cherry says:
    January 24, 2010

    Great list guys! I agree with everything (brings back so many memories! We only got sick in Morocco too, go figure).

    Not eating bain marie food is an excellent tip. We only ever ate food that was prepared right in front of us like you guys. It’s so tempting to eat from street stalls that have had stuff sitting there when you are starving or it’s cheap, but it’s seriously not worth it.

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      February 4, 2010

      You just taught us that term “bain marie,” never heard that before :) We ate from the deli case in Greece all the time, but it was a different story… Plus, most of it they reheated upon order. I agree though, sometimes it’s hard to pass something tempting up!

      Reply

  7. The Backpack Foodie says:
    January 25, 2010

    Very cool article! The yogurt advice makes so much sense, I never thought of recommending it before. I tend to eat yogurt in one form or another as a matter of principle (mango shake with yogurt = heaven!)

    I’m not advocating that people be LESS cautious when eating on the road, but I do want to mention that I’ve lived 3 years in China and have very rarely gotten sick. Usually, I got sick from foreign food, which really annoyed me when I consider how much more expensive it is.

    I mostly stick to a few principles as the ones you outlined, and trust my long-honed instincts. I’m just about to head out to India for the first time, though, so perhaps I’ll review my principles. :/

    Anyway, if you’re curious, I wrote essentially on the same topic on my blog, here:

    http://www.backpackfoodie.com/2010/01/19/eating-at-street-level

    Thanks again for your great post!

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      February 4, 2010

      Cool article! Thanks for sharing :)

      We’ve rarely gotten sick, and use minimal caution. I think we’ve worked up a bit of a stronger digestion as we’ve gone around, too. I absolutely, totally agree that most people are getting sick in places catering to foreigners, which is just a pity. But, “when in Rome…”

      Good luck in India! We never got sick and the food was phenomenal!! We hardly ever ate meat, because most folks were veg, and we followed the pack. But I never missed anything, all the veggies were outstanding. The snacks called “chaat” are our favorite & Dahi Vada for breakfast (sort of like an Indian donut sitting in yogurt with chilies).

      Reply

  8. Jen Laceda says:
    January 26, 2010

    To Ayngelina and Team Rees,
    I’m pregnant now, and my OB recommended Tums everyday for indigestion (very common among pregnant women) — there’s added benefit of Calcium as well…We know that when travelling, we don’t always eat/drink enough Calcium to cover our daily recommended intake :) So, it might actually be a good idea to carry Tums. I’ve had no side effects so far from it :)

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      February 4, 2010

      Awesome, a medically sound follow-up! Looks like we’ll be chucking a pack of Tums into our med kit next time!

      Reply

  9. Legal Nomads says:
    January 27, 2010

    Great roundup, and (as always) a lovely series of succulent photos to accompany your post! Agreed that the yogurt (or probiotic pills) is one of the more important preventatives you can muster. I actually just got sick in northern Burma and for exactly the reason you stated above – the flatware was festering in a pool of dirty river water. Lesson learned!

    Thanks for linking to my getting sick on the road post, much appreciated!
    -Jodi

    Reply

  10. Alison says:
    January 27, 2010

    I was in Texas for just over a day last week and completely blew my diet and started eating like I had never seen food before. So sad, I could have used this post then!

    Reply

  11. Accidental Pharmacist says:
    January 31, 2010

    Great tips! I especially like the yogurt tip and will be using it on my next trip for sure.

    Just a quick note on getting meds abroad. While I think it’s a good idea for a long trip (drugs don’t do well with hot, humid temps) if you do plan to wait to buy stuff until you get to your destination, do your research. For example, in Mexico many drugs are available without a prescription but they aren’t always what they say they are and the names you’re used to could be a different drug (anti-diarrheal meds are known for this). India has similar issues in smaller communities where pharmacies are often run by cashiers (even though this is not legal) whereas you may have more luck in places like Europe or Japan.

    Just ask at a travel clinic before you go.

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      February 4, 2010

      I hope when we get back home we can do some research are share a list of oft-needed drugs from around the world online. I know I would really appreciate having all the info collected. I think we could travel almost without any of the pills we have, were we to go for such an extended travel again.

      Reply

  12. Sonya says:
    February 2, 2010

    Great post on being a healthy foodie on the road! Thanks for sharing these helpful tips. I totally agree with your Acidophilous recommendation and take it everyday.

    Reply

  13. Brad says:
    March 28, 2010

    I am looking to obtain a multivitamin. I am seeking to obtain a liquid vitamin. Is there a great product or better place to buy them from. Any support will be significantly appreciated.

    Reply

  14. Dan44 says:
    May 5, 2010

    Great article! Got me really thinking about my upcoming trip.

    A friend and I are heading to SEA (Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, & Malaysia) from Vancouver in August and I’m getting worried about what to eat and what not to eat. When we get there, I don’t want to starve because everything might be washed or rinsed in the local water, or be afraid to eat anything unless it’s fresh.

    What do you drink at restaurants? Coke? I’m not a huge pop fan and I prefer water (in August it’s going to be stinking hot and that may cause some dehydration so water might be best) so what product is best for us? I heard stories that not all bottled water is actually bottled water, it’s just tap water.

    And what about an occasional cocktail? I’d like to sample the local mai-tais or daiquiris but don’t want to get sick because they contain shaved-ice.

    Now what? Am I being too paranoid?

    Reply

    • Team Rees says:
      May 5, 2010

      We never ever got sick in SEA, from drinks or otherwise. I also really hate soda, so I feel your pain. We drank a lot of tea and ordered drinks on site (usually lemon soda: just sparkling water and lemon, maybe sugar; very common in Asia). What we tried to relay in this post is that you aren’t alone in getting sick. Locals will get sick from the same stuff you will, and reputable restaurants won’t serve you ick water. Hot tea and coffee will usually be made with boiling water, if you’re worried.

      We bought a lot of bottled water all over the place. I check caps, but we were NEVER given a weird one, go figure. There’s 7-11’s and the like everywhere too, if you want a reliable source.

      I drank cocktails and beer, beer quite often. I like to see the bottle opened in front of me, and it typically is. Or on draft. But from time to time, a glass just shows up — we’ve been lucky.

      We think if you go to places that are busy and popular you’ll be safe :)

      Maybe you are a bit paranoid, but you’ll just have to be open to testing the waters. It’s not wrong to worry, it’s your body and your health – you should be aware. My only thought is that you should be open to changing your opinions, as you go. Our comfort-zone grew exponentially on this trip… we started out being afraid of going out after dark in Mexico city, and checking every single plastic seal on bottled water to just knowing when something felt wrong or right.

      In Asia we also drank fruit shakes all over the place and ate tons of fruit from stands and the like. It’s always worked out well, but you’ll also have endless market stalls where you can pick up your own fresh fruit and peel it. We couldn’t get enough watermelon shakes, coconut shakes and fresh fruit juice — so comically cheap and we had a very clean track record.

      There were a few places here and there we avoided. We’d walk in and something wouldn’t smell right, or there’d be flies hanging about… it was probably paranoia, but there’s so many options in SEA, we just moved on to the next one.

      Reply

  15. nova 2 hd apk says:
    January 14, 2012

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    Reply

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