Indian Street Food. What Will This Do To My Intestines?

A thin man with buck-teeth who had evidently been watching me make my way around the market area asked “How can you put that much food in your body?”

I felt guilty for a moment.  That first-world guilt when you really do know you’re privileged and you really do know that you’re abusing that privilege.  But then, across the way, I saw another man sliding chunks of pork onto a stick.  The guilt melted in my mouth and nearly ran down my chin.

I’ve got a thing for street food and a few times I’ve paid dearly for it.

The salad in Fez hit me harder than the street soup I bought in Moscow.  I had to throw away a fine pair of pants from the Russian incident.  And a pair of socks.  Shoes too, truth be told.  The Swede who watched over me in Fez probably saved my life.  The fever phased in and out and I still have visions of him sitting there with his beret and harmonica.  He had a chameleon on his hat. Seriously, a real chameleon.

Then there was Peru. Whatever it was I ate in Lima nailed me but the cabin crew mercifully allowed me to stay on the toilet for the landing in Miami. Over the next three weeks I lost 30 pounds.  Then they found the worm – and it wasn’t a small worm. I’ve never been quite the same since.

So, all that aside. I’ve also experienced some fabulous tastes that I wouldn’t have otherwise. And what the hell?  They are only intestines after all.


Earlier this year, on a January morning in Goa, I made a quick visit to watch pepper and vanilla grow at a farm close to town.  I dropped back by my hotel, a place I’d felt fortunate to find, to change clothes.

Then, I packed only my iphone and a wad of small bills into my pockets and proceeded to eat my way through the India street food market on General Guedes Road in Panaji.

indian street food

There were stalls covered with yellow and white marigold strips. Piled on the table were yards-long strings of orange marigolds.  There were baskets overflowing with fish. The smell of the sea was pungent. The din of the market tremendous.

indian street food

At one corner stall  was a fellow serving mango lassi.  He wore a tie and had clearly spent time combing his mustache.  He said he was from somewhere in the north and he named a place I’d never heard of. When I shrugged, he shook his head as if he were ashamed of me.

After deftly peeling and dicing a mango, he pulled yogurt and milk from a blue and white cooler. He measured both into a large glass blender, sprinkled sugar on top and stuffed in a pinch of mint and poured in some ice.  The blender went right to work and he handed over my drink.  It was exactly like a smoothie but exceedingly sweet.  The nerves in my jaw tingled.


A Punjabi man had paneer tikka to offer.  The paneer are chunks of cheese.  He’d smashed them onto a stick and marinated them with a mixture of hot chili, tomato and onion.  Then he’d cooked it in a tandoor.  It was smoking hot and burned my tongue just nicely.  The cheese was soft and melted in quickly in my mouth.  The whole thing dripped down and all over my shirt.

indian street food

Peanuts, cashews, bananas, chana choor, chana cracker, breadfruit, jackfruit, star fruit, water melon, fresh coconut water, some salted fish where you eat the head too, pork jerky, navratan, an outlandishly hot chili that made half my hair fall out.  And tomatoes. There were alot of tomatoes and quite a few things that were a total mystery….

indian street food

 After all of that I stepped over the nearest liquor store, bought a small Indian-made malt whiskey (as opposed to the rough molasses-based whiskey made in India that tastes more like rum) and downed it, figuring that would kill anything bad I’d just put in.

Smooth as silk.

indian street food

Then I wandered down Heliodoro Salgado street to find the paanwala.

The paanwala is the guy who makes the paan, a cancer-causing tradition of chewing some mysterious brown powder, tobacco powder, fennel seeds, katha, lime paste, chutney, areca nut and all rolled into a betel leaf he pulled from a bucket of questionable water.  The whole time he spoke to me in Konkani, as if I could understand everything he said.

I understood nothing.

It’s not quite clear where paan originated. Archaeological evidence points to the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia and suggest a tradition dating back at least four-thousand years.

At one point, Indian women chewed paan to redden their lips. In some areas it was thought to medicinal. In others an aphrodisiac.  Buddhism brought paan to China, and out into the islands of the Malaysia, Sumatra and Bali.

The paanwala handed the rolled paan to me and I took a bite. It was good…kind of…it was so damn sweet my teeth nearly fell right out of my head. Then I started drooling thick red saliva all over myself. And I got a little buzz. And I drooled some more.

indian street food

Preparing the Paan

indian street food

Paan. Ready to be rolled

He must have been popular because a crowd of men gathered round and, for once, they weren’t watching….and laughing at … me.

This was an ancient tradition. Even Ibn Battuta mentioned it. If Ibn Battuta tried it then I had to too. I went ahead and stuffed the rest of it in my mouth.

“Normal. Normal,” said the next gentleman in line.

“Normal?” I asked pointing to the drool running down my chin.

“Normal.” So, I stood with the boys up against the building and we all drooled on ourselves.

After that a little digestion stroll under the giant acacias that shade Dayanand Bandodkar Marg was called for. Then I headed up towards the Gurudatta Apartments on MG Road where there was an Indian street food restaurant known as Chat Street.  I’d heard Aloo Chaat, Aloo Tikki, Sev Puri, Khasta Khachori and Dahi Vada call my name.

“How can you put that much food in your body?” ask the waiter after I’d been there for an hour.

I shrugged. I felt guilty for a minute.

And then I didn’t.  “May I please have some more Aloo Chaat?” I asked.



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47 Responses to Indian Street Food. What Will This Do To My Intestines?

  1. Jim O'Donnell January 7, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    So far, so good.

    • Jim O'Donnell January 7, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

      more from the same market here Viktoria Ekholm

  2. Rudy Rios January 7, 2012 at 3:18 pm #

    Like, sounds enteresting.

  3. Sandra Harris January 7, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    Hope you don't pay for it too much, very interesting!

  4. Sandra Harris January 7, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    The drool is the extra pull for me…

  5. Jeffrey Quinn January 7, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    Used to happen to me all the time with chewing tobacco! Now I can precision spit after drinking a glass of milk! Practice makes perfect.

  6. Joan Kavianifar January 7, 2012 at 8:38 pm #

    They say it aids in the digestion of food after meals. Paan is the only Indian thing I hate with heaps o' passion.

    • Portia Villarante January 7, 2012 at 9:56 pm #

      Paan is similar to nganga (betel nut chewing), Atz and Jim. Chewing bunga (betel nut) with tobacco, buyo (betel leaf) and apog (lime powder) is common in most indigenous groups here – from the north to south of the Phils. And also done in most parts of Asia and the Pacific.

      I tried this when we were in Surat in India. I thought it was nganga, although more commercialized because it was all these stores were offering!… and it had different flavors. The one I tasted was sweet, which was not characteristic at all of the nganga here (which tastes hot to my unaccustomed tongue – lime powder is hot to the skin). It had the same heady effect, though. I was sorry I was not able to explore more about it and its connection to betel nut chewing done here. I definitely need to go back to India!

    • Joan Kavianifar January 8, 2012 at 12:25 am #

      Portia Villarante Indians copied the Filipinos :) This also reminds me of an old Filipino riddle, "what thing comes in multi-coloured and comes out all red?" I'll get some from an Indian shop and bring them to Gubat so we can, you can compare. I am not gonna have any again! Unless Sting or Bono ask me to.

    • Jim O'Donnell January 8, 2012 at 1:42 am #

      Portia Villarante Its actually a very interesting custom with many variations. The only problem I had with it was the sweetness. Just WAY too sweet for me. Otherwise, it was fine. I wouldnt mind experimenting with it around the indigenous groups (and otherwise) in Asia to see all the varieties!

  7. John Mata January 7, 2012 at 9:20 pm #

    Nice photos Jim, too bad you didn't include one showing yourself after your teeth and hair had fallen out, and after the drool bath was well underway. We're missing that one.

    All of it sounds quite scrumptious to me, except for the dried fish. It's nice to know you're getting all of your major food groups in over there. That should keep the parasite at bay for awhile!

    • Joan Kavianifar January 7, 2012 at 9:38 pm #

      I'm sure you won't like the paan too. We have a similar one in Gubat. It's called ma-ma!

    • John Mata January 7, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

      Joan Kavianifar actually, those photos reminded me very much of the marketplace in Gubat.

    • Joan Kavianifar January 7, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

      John Mata Yeah, I agree. Hmm..let's have a ma-ma-eating competition in gubat..let's see who spits it out with the best projectile. In India, red stains are everywhere from paan spits. I don't remember if paan-eaters do that in Gubat!

  8. Maria January 8, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

    see what I meant: no broccoli! and although areca nut has some anti-parasitic properties, it is also quite carcinogenic — besides staining your teeth a terrible shade of brownish-red, that is, the ones that stay in your head after chewing this stuff for years! good thing it only cost a dollar to try! but I wouldn’t make a habit of it, ick

    • Jim January 18, 2012 at 1:02 pm #

      I dont think its something I could become addicted to.

  9. Rebeccah September 18, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    Love your photographs. You make me want to be more adventurous when it comes to food.

    • Jim O'Donnell September 24, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

      Thank you! It comes at a cost sometimes tho….I’ll do a revamp of this before I make it final for publication and the MU folks encouraged me to get into the….icky….

  10. Lele September 26, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

    Very, very pintoresco, and interesting! My Lord these people from India know about a lot of things but food is definitely one of the biggest ones..
    Excellent article…….I want to try some of that thought! Congrats!!!

    • Jim O'Donnell September 27, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      Gracias amiga! Verdad que los conocen la comida. The best!

  11. Eric Hatch September 26, 2012 at 3:35 pm #

    Nice, spicy writing with a point. Enjoyed it.

  12. Lindsay September 26, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    My teeth started to hurt just reading this!!! Probably way to sweet for me!

    • Jim O'Donnell September 27, 2012 at 10:24 am #

      The amount of sugar is some of these things is unreal. Like, your teeth ache for hours.

  13. Daniela September 26, 2012 at 7:27 pm #

    Jealous of all the wild and crazy street food you have tried on your travels…… not so jealous on the worm experience. Great story and photos, you always find the right combination of both to take us along on your journeys. Thanks for sharing Jim

    • Jim O'Donnell September 27, 2012 at 10:22 am #

      THank you so much! That worm was just about one of the worst things that even hit me. You should have seen the xray….and what came out after they killed it. OMG. No, maybe you shouldnt see……

  14. Kobi Klaf September 27, 2012 at 6:03 am #

    In north India, in Daramkot, I love the Tibetan dumplings. they were great.. by the way, I love the picture from way up looking down to the market.

    • Jim O'Donnell September 27, 2012 at 4:05 pm #

      I so wish I had brought my good camera with me. Every now and again I resolve to leave the camera behind so that I can experience in all the other ways possible. I almost always regret it.

  15. Donna Corwin September 27, 2012 at 8:59 am #

    Was in India this year, and I attest the food is hotter than hot. We had to hide chunks of chili spiced delicacies in our lentils and yogurt!

    • Jim O'Donnell September 27, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

      True! Thanks for coming by Donna. Your photos from India are fabulous. I've enjoyed looking at them.

  16. Chris Chopp September 30, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    Yum! Sometimes you just have to dive in and go for it. I’ve had bad after effects from the most unlikely of places in India. Street food no longer holds a worry for me :-)

    • Jim O'Donnell October 2, 2012 at 6:12 am #

      I agree Chris. I lived in Finland for three years and I had more food poisoning issues there than I ever had in India, Africa or places like Haiti. You’d never have guessed that but its true. I think knowing that the first world can likewise hit you pretty hard makes me a little less fearful of other places.

  17. Venkat Ganesh @ India Backpack Motorbike October 1, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    Haa!! Explosion of extreme flavours! That’s the way I describe India street food. Hell! Rather any Indian food for that matter!

    Keep Munching!


    • Jim O'Donnell October 2, 2012 at 6:10 am #


      Thanks for coming by! Nice to see you here. You are exactly right, Indian food is my favorite!

  18. Kulsum October 21, 2012 at 2:25 am #

    Loved this piece. Being a non resident indian it does take a couple of days for a food enthusiast like myself to warm up to Indian street food. But once you start you can’t stop!

  19. The College Tourist February 14, 2013 at 9:43 am #

    Fantastic post! “the first condition of understanding a foreign country is to smell (or eat) it”.

    Beautiful locations and glorious food!

    The College Tourist

  20. Jim O'Donnell February 19, 2013 at 11:06 pm #

    Debra Hansen Schmidt here is one of the India posts…….

    • Gary Grief February 19, 2013 at 11:15 pm #

      Take some Cipro with you – for stomach problems. Do you have your shots etc?

    • Jim O'Donnell February 19, 2013 at 11:19 pm #

      I survived just fine….but I DID have the cipro just in case…..and yes, Ive had just about every shot possible.

  21. Agness August 26, 2014 at 1:21 am #

    I eat Indian food here in Amsterdam from time to time, but being there and trying different meals from the street vendors must be a great culinary experience. I’ve been to Sri Lanka and I enjoyed it a lot, although the food was way too spicy sometimes.


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