One drink that is especially tempting is a creamy cool lassi. It’s a popular drink in India that can be a nice counter-balance to the hot and spicy curry dishes. However, if you’re a traveler who wants to avoid Delhi Belly you may be wondering…
Is a lassi safe to drink in India? Yes, if it has no tap water, the yogurt is properly stored, and it is served under sanitary conditions. If any of these conditions are not met, then it would be a risk to drink a lassi.
You’ve probably heard the stories or read about people eating in India. It usually varies from…
“I’ve been traveling in India for 39 years, and I’ve had 3,218 lassis and I’ve NEVER gotten sick.”
“You should NEVER drink a lassi! What if there the cow who produce the milk that made the yogurt had a cold… you might die!”
When eating and drinking in India as a traveler, you are running a higher risk of getting food poisoning, or Delhi Belly has it’s commonly called here. There are other food-borne illnesses that you might get as well.
However, if you want to taste a lassi in India, or have a number of them, then read on. I’ll show you:
- What a lassi is
- The risks you face when drinking a lassi
- The consequences of getting a bad lassi
- How to minimize your risks when ordering a lassi
- How to enjoy a delicious lassi with (almost) ZERO risk 😋
What is a Lassi?
A lassi is a creamy rich yogurt drink that is often thinned with water or ice and blended with sugar, honey, spices or fruits.
It originated as far back as 1000 BC in the Punjab and Multan regions and was probably like the ancient version of a smoothie for our ancestors.
Today, an ayurvedic healer would say that it adds a healthy balance to your diet because it has a “cooling” quality and can balance out the spicy hot curries that India is so well known for.
A lassi is thought to have many health benefits, such as:
- The bacteria can help you digest your food.
- It can act as a probiotic maintaining a healthy stomach.
- It is rich in protein, so can help you build muscle.
- It can settle your stomach if it is already gurgling.
- It can hydrate you if you already have diarrhea.
- It can prevent heat strokes.
- It has Vitamin D, calcium and lactic acid.
- It can help clean your skin and reduce blemishes.
On a hot day in India, you may see the roadside vendor selling lassis and think, “that would be the PERFECT drink right now.”
However, before you gulp one down, please consider the risk so you’re prepared… 👵☝️
The Risks of Drinking A Lassi
Some travelers are blessed as if from the heavens. They will walk up to any street food stand, any juice shop, or any lassi stand… eat all they want, and NEVER get sick.
Other travelers will eat very conservatively and they get sick just breathing the air.
I’ve been lucky that I haven’t been sick in India. AND I want to keep it that way, so I’m more on the cautious side… which maybe why I’m writing 2500 words about is it safe to drink a lassi, haha.
If you want to know the scary spooky list of all the ways a lassi could get you sick, then read on… if you’re rather skip the horror story, then skip to the bottom where you can learn how to minimize your risk.
The tap water in India is your biggest enemy. Traditionally, a lassi is mixed with water so that it’s more of a drink and less like eating yogurt (curd). But if tap water is used to mix it, then you can imagine… HOUSTON, we have a problem 🤢
Tap water could be found in your lassi in many forms as well:
- Ice: A lassi is often blended with ice, so it’s cool and more drink-able. But what if the tap water was used to make the ice? Or the ice tray was washed with tap water?
- Washing the glass: If your glass was washed with tap water, then there’s a chance it could have stomach-churning bacteria.
- Fruit juice: If fruit juice is added, was the juice made from concentrate and mixed with tap water?
- Washing the fruit: If you ordered a mango or pineapple lassi, did they wash the fruit with tap water?
When you start looking into it, tap water could be in many places so your mind could go down a rabbit-hole of fears.
Don’t worry though, I’ll show you how you can minimize your risk below, and how to avoid risk altogether while having lassis. Although another risk is…
There’s good news! Yogurt (curd or dahi as it’s called in India), is safer to eat and drink than milk because it is fermented and cooked. That process kills off most of the bacteria that might make you sick.
Therefore, even if the yogurt is not properly refrigerated during one of India’s many power cuts, you’ll still probably be okay.
You would just have to look out for yogurt that has been sitting in the hot sun, or if it is left uncovered so flies can get at it, then we may have a problem.
This can be sort of an issue too, since it can be difficult to know how hygienic a restaurant or lassi stand is.
In general, nice 3 to 5-star hotels are used to catering to tourists and would be devasted by bad reviews on the Booking.com or Oyo.com. They have a strong incentive to keep everything very clean, make their ice with purified water, and deliver fresh juices.
But what about the lassi-wallah who’s been on the street for many years selling his lassis?
He may actually provide just as high quality a lassi as the 5-star restaurant, yet it is more difficult to know, since there probably isn’t a government hygiene tester man coming to review him regularly. AND you can’t read his reviews online or know the experience of other travelers.
Therefore, in general, it’s safer at nice hotels and restaurants.
However, we could just as easily get sick from bacteria under our fingernail that stuck around even though we washed twice. And we would never know if it was the lassi or something else.
The Consequences of Drinking a Bad Lassi
The most common reaction to a bad lassi is that you’ll have mild stomach gurgling and an “interesting” time in the bathroom later. 😬
Delhi Belly generally lasts between 1 and 5 days. It varies though. Some people have to go to a doctor, and others can sleep it off.
I’ve been in India for almost a year, and I’ve never puked or spent days in bed or had to go to the doctor, AND I was pretty clueless at first.
I have had plenty of “interesting” bathroom experiences and some that have left me tired or weak for days.
I also was not the most knowledgeable about how to eat safely in India, so there is some leeway for many people.
Most Serious Illnesses: Giardia and other Parasites
When I was first in India, I would eat at local restaurants. I drank lassis, ate street food, had ice in my drink, drank tap water in restaurants, and ate pre-cut fruit on the streets… all no-no’s if you want to avoid illness.
I didn’t wake up to the fact that I could get seriously ill in India, until I talked to a friend who got a parasite on one of his trips here. It lasted for years and ended up deforming the bones in his hands. He still comes to India and loves it, but his stories were a wake-up call…
I could get permanently injured by not eating safely in India. 😳
That’s part of the reason I’m writing this post, don’t be me 🙂 Unless you want to, then go for it, you will probably be alright.
One parasite that some people have gotten is giardia. It’s commonly found in untreated water, soil, and food that has those things… for instance when I was on long hiking trips in the USA, we would treat the river water we drank to avoid getting giardia.
It’s a microscopic bug that could give you diarrhea for two to six weeks. Longer for some, and for others you may see very little symptoms.
There are other parasites, and I’ll spare you the details.
How to Order a Lassi and Minimize Your Risk of Getting Sick
If you still want to try a lassi (and they are good 🙂 then try these tips that I use to minimize your risk:
- Ask for no ice
- Ask for no water
- Or Ask them to use bottled mineral water, instead of tap water
- Ask them how they wash their glass
- Bring your own straw
- Avoid fruit lassi and get a sweet lassi (sugar or honey)
- Stick to very clean restaurants that cater to tourists and travelers. Or a place that is very popular with locals
I know it may sound sort of germaphobe-y to ask these questions, and it kind of is, haha. But travelers do ask and if your health is vital to you, then it could save you a LOT of trouble.
In hotels and restaurants that cater to tourists, the staff will understand your fear and will be happy to explain the situation to make you feel at ease.
If they do NOT explain it well or seem put off, then I would be a bit wary of ordering a lassi at that place.
I go to a local nice restaurant here and on the menu it is clearly stated… We only use purified water in all drinks and ice. We wash dishes with purified water. We grow our salads in an Ozonator which uses purified water to constantly keep them clean.
Start Out Slow
When trying a lassi, pick a place you think would serve a clean and healthy lassi, and go to try a small one.
Or if you’re very cautious, then just take one sip.
Then see how your stomach reacts. I can often tell by how my stomach feels right after I eat, so I will just drink a little at a place.
If I am still feeling good the next day, then I’ll come back and enjoy 😛
How to Drink Lassi and NEVER Get Sick
If you want an almost-guaranteed way of enjoying a lassi and not getting sick, then make one yourself.
Here’s how to make a simple sweet lassi in your hotel room [or the Guardian shares a delicious mango lassi recipe if you have a full kitchen]:
- Buy dahi (curd or yogurt)
- Buy sugar or honey
- Buy bottled water
- Put in mostly yogurt, then water and sugar to the consistency and taste you want.
It’s that easy, and you won’t have to worry about getting sick 😎
What to Do if You Do Get Sick?
Ugh, if it happens, you hear the dreaded gurgle of your stomach… you feel the heat come to your face… and the bathroom calls more urgently than you’d like, then try these methods that I use to heal up my stomach fast:
**NOTE: I’m not a doctor, so please see one if you need it.
- When you get to a new area, Google “doctor” or “hospital” on your phone and add the number your contacts, or at least know where it is. Then if you get sick, you can push make a call and tell them you are coming over.
- Take activated charcoal pills. As soon as you feel gurgling, take two pills of activated charcoal. It will absorb the toxins.
- Take grapefruit seed extract. I prefer the liquid extract to the pill form, although the taste is less than pleasant. As soon as my stomach rumbles, I put a few drops in water and drink it down. Some travelers take this before every meal or once a day for prevention. It can protect your stomach from damage and has a lot of antioxidants.
- Take anti-diarrhea pills. If you don’t bring anti-diarrhea pills to India, you are a brave soul 😉 You can buy them at every pharmacy though and if you hold your stomach, they will know what you mean.
- Take rehydration salts. If you have an extended bout of diarrhea, you could get dehydrated. Take a few packets of rehydration salts with you. You can also buy these at local pharmacies, again hold your stomach and ask for the works 😉 It takes like salty Gatorade and will help you recover from diarrhea faster without losing all your strength.
Get Travel Insurance
One thing that helps me taste more lassis and explore India with less fear is that I have good travel insurance.
If I get sick and have to go to the hospital, I will be reimbursed.
If I get really sick and had to be flown back to the US for treatment, I would be covered and not lose my entire savings.
Travel insurance is a must-have for me in India, as it lets me sleep soundly at night and taste a lassi here or there when it looks safe, as well as enjoy other aspects of India.
I use World Nomads. I like that it covers me even if I do adventurous stuff like rent a motorcycle or go hiking in the Himalayas.
World Nomads will also let me renew after my trip has started. This is very rare among travel insurance companies. I had a 6 month policy to start, and once that time was up, I just hopped on their website and ordered another 6 month policy in 5 minutes. No questions asked.
Most travel insurance companies will require you to sign up BEFORE you start traveling.
Plus, it’s reasonably price. It’s only about 25% as expensive as my normal health insurance.
It also covers if my MacBook Pro or my DSLR gets stolen.
There are other travel insurance companies, and others might suit you perfectly so check them out. This is just the company I’ve had experience with and has worked out for me 👍👍
Is it Safe To Eat Yogurt in India?
Yogurt (curd or dahi) is milk that has been cooked and fermented, so as long as the conditions are sanitary, then you should be safe. If it has been sitting out in the hot sun or with flies, then it would not be safe.
Is it Safe to Eat Bananas in India?
Bananas are one of the safest fruits to eat on the street because they have a thick peel to keep the pesticides off. You do need to peel the banana with one hand to be sure it remains uncontaminated.
You can read me post with more details about eating bananas safely in India here.
Or watch my youtube video about how to eat a banana with one hand.
What to Eat to Avoid Sickness in India?
Eat hot, recently cooked food at clean restaurants. Eat fruits with peels like bananas, pomegranates, papaya, and mango. Bring probiotic supplements to keep your stomach healthy. Take Grapefruit Seed Extract for the antioxidants and to prevent stomach damage.