Wed. Jul 15th, 2020

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Indian Street Food: How to look for signs of Hygiene during Travel.

5 min read
Indian street food vendor chopping an onion
Indian street food vendor with an assortment of fried nuts and lentils.

Indian street food is a one way road to a multi dimensional gastronomical experience. From ‘Gol Gappe’ to ‘Pav Bhaji’ our street food is bursting at the seams with flavors. The best thing about Indian street food is that the flavors are never the same everywhere you go. The ‘Chaat’ in Mumbai will be very different from the one in Delhi and both will have patrons who will swear by the authenticity of the flavors. Many of the city food tours are a testimony to the appeal of Indian cuisine.

Street food suppliers fill the gap between the pricey restaurants and the common man, by providing a lip smacking meal at a fraction of the cost. Street food business requires lesser investment and is the business of choice for migrants who move into the big cities looking to make it big.

Often travelers & expats are confused between the variety of food available and mostly worried about the safety of the food. Many have heard nightmares about the dreaded ‘Delhi Belly’ and avoid street food altogether during their Indian sojourn. If you have ever felt like devouring Indian street food but hesitant because of food safety, look no further. We have listed down signs of hygiene to look out for during your travel, that will make you a pro at Indian street food hopping!

#1: Observe the Seller

Indian street food vendor packing chips

Or to be more precise, observe the person preparing the food (Food Handler).

  • Does he handle the cash as well? (Currency notes are a big source of food pathogens)
  • Does he wear food handling gloves? If yes, does he change them often?
  • If No, does he have a provision to wash his hands? Does he wash his hands often?
  • Does he follow standards of personal hygiene? Does he look healthy ?

By observing the food handler, you get an idea of what to expect when you eat at the shop. If your food handler looks visibly sick (coughing, sneezing etc) or if he is not following food safety guidelines you would follow at home, don’t eat there!

#2: Observe the Food

Signs of hygiene to look out for at Indian street food shop.  Indian street food vendor cutting tomatoes.

Closely observe the food that is being served to other patrons. Does it appear fresh and healthful ? Observe the ingredients used by the cook. Often, street food has pre-cooked ingredients, to shorten the time required to serve a dish on order.

  • Do the pre-cooked ingredients look fresh? Are they stored properly ?
  • Are cold foods kept under refrigeration or suitable cooling techniques are used to cool the food? are hot foods kept under constant heat?
  • Are there visible pests such as houseflies hovering around the food? Is the food cooked thoroughly and for a good duration before being served?
  • Is meat/seafood kept under refrigeration before use?
  • Is purified/bottled water used in preparation of food?
  • Are the utensils and vessels clean?
  • Is the oil used for deep frying clear? Is it smoking? (Smoking indicates that the oil used has degraded)

The ingredients used in making of the food and how they are cooked should easily help you make your decision on Indian Street Food.

#3 Look for a Food License

Logo of  Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) the sole licensing authority of Indian Street food
Logo of Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI)

In India, it is illegal to set up a food & beverage establishment without a Food license. By law, all Indian street food vendors are required to obtain this license and display it prominently at their establishment.

Signs of hygiene to be followed by Indian Street food vendor
All vendors should register with Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI)

A food license or certification doesn’t necessarily mean that the Street food vendor is religiously following food hygiene practices. However, such a certification gives us assurance that the vendor is on the records of the local government and is accountable for his/her food products.

#4 What to Avoid

An Indian street food shop selling deep fried cutlets

Indian street food is a big part of the local culture. Certain food items like Vada Pav, Masala Dosa, Bhel Puri are now synonymous with the regions they come from. However, in view of ensuring that you consume foods that pass the test of hygiene and sanitation, we have the below list of things to avoid. This list comprises of food and beverage products that have a higher chance of contamination considering the Indian climate.

  • Say no to ice. Edible ice industry in India is highly unregulated and has a high chance of contamination during transportation & storage.
  • Raw food. Raw vegetables and salads. Cooking ensures that food borne pathogens are eliminated, uncooked food therefore is a high risk option.
  • Tap water. Tap water in India is not chemically purified and hence needs to be avoided unless boiled or purified on premises.
  • Fruits. Avoid pre-cut fruits, it is better to consume fruits that can be peeled.
  • Unsealed Seasoning and Garnishes. Avoid tomato ketchup and other sauces that are kept on the table as you cannot ascertain its expiry nor how it was used by the previous customer.
  • Pre-fried snacks. Deep fried snacks such as vada, bonda and samosa should be made freshly on the premises. Otherwise, it is impossible to visually ascertain the date of production of pre-fried snacks.
  • Uncovered Food. Food that has been left uncovered even for short duration is prone to contamination.

#5 Plan ahead

Two men having a cup of Indian Tea (chai)

Do your research when you travel to a new city to learn where to eat. Food blogs and reviews will help you plan your Indian street food hunt in advance. Also, carry some energy bars with you so that you don’t let your food choices be ruled by a hungry stomach!

An indian street food paan seller arranging paan (chewing leaves)

To summarize, Indian street food is the holy grail to all self acclaimed foodies. By using the knowledge you gained from this post and your prudence, you can enjoy the best of the Indian cuisine during your travel.

Hygiene and sanitation should take the highest importance during your travel, as food borne illnesses can derail your entire itinerary. To help those travelers who are looking for an authentic Indian culinary experience, we have connected with food experts to create Culinary Tours for every palate. Do visit our website to plan your Indian Holiday!

Author: Jovial Anthony Fernandes

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