Beer Bread and Bananas (Vámonos Vol. 5)

What can you eat anywhere?

When you’re traveling there are many questions that continually plague a person in a new country. Where to stay, what the currency conversion is, whether to bow, kiss, or shake hands when introduced. But there is nothing as universal as food. Business or pleasure, short trip or long, seeing family or going alone, all travelers must eat.

Eating is one of the great pleasures of travel. A hearty adventurer is always excited to try local fare, but sometimes a hearty adventurer is rewarded for his or her bravery with what may euphemistically be called traveler’s belly. Every part of the world has its own bacteria. A person might have the antibodies and the tough stomach to eat all kinds of things in their home country, but the tables turn quickly when that person steps off their home court.

In places where a traveler cannot drink the water, the question of eating becomes complex. It’s not simply a matter of not drinking out of the tap. Not drinking local water also means no ice, no cold soups, and no fruits or vegetables that may have been washed in local water. If, in your travels, you limit yourself to places where you can drink the water, you will keep yourself out of half the world. So, if you find yourself in a place where you cannot drink the water, or if you are not sure what you can eat and drink, it is a comfort to know that there are three things that are almost always safe to consume: beer, bread, and bananas.

Because bananas have a thick skin, their fruit is not washed. They are also one of, if not the most, popular fruits, so when traveling you can often find them.

Bread is heated in the baking process and is also not washed before serving, so it is generally safe. What is important to remember there is watching what you put on that bread.

All boiled drinks (like tea and coffee) are usually safe, but when you want something cold and you can’t have ice cubes, beer is often your best option. Beer is safe because in order to brew it, it must be heated and then sealed. Also, yeast needs to be the dominant organism in the beer during the brewing. If it is not, the water, grain, and hops never become beer.

Trip Tips (what to do when you can’t drink the water):

Iodine Pills

If you are taking a trip to more remote places and it is not possible to carry all the bottled water you need, it is a good idea to bring iodine pills, which can be used to kill bacteria in water. I have only used these in camping settings, but if you are in a place so remote that bottled water is not available, this may be a useful option.

Tooth Brushing

Brushing teeth is such an automatic activity that we often do it on autopilot, but the water that is used to rinse your toothbrush before and your mouth after brushing goes into your mouth and should come from a clean water source. Make sure you have bottled water handy for this.

When You Are a Guest

Food sensitivities are often an issue when you are a guest – just ask someone who has allergies or is a vegan. When traveling, these can be doubly touchy because what may be fine for your hosts to eat could be dangerous to you. In order to avoid embarrassing or awkward situations, try to inform your hosts of anything you might not be able to eat in advance. If attending a dinner, it may be wise to offer to bring something to share that you know you can eat.


Remember, hot, boiled soups okay. Cold soups, hands-off.


This article is available en Español

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