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Originally published August 4, 2012 at 7:01 PM | Page modified August 6, 2012 at 2:09 PM

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How to eat like a local and stay healthy

Eating is part of the fun and adventure of traveling: Set some common-sense ground rules, then dive in and eat like a local.

Seattle Times travel writer


Travelers' health-care services, including immunizations and medications, are available in a variety of locations in the Puget Sound area. Check with your health-care provider, consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website ( and/or visit one of the following clinics or pharmacies:

Seattle & King County Public Health: The downtown public-health travel clinic offers immunizations, prescriptions and 40-minute consultations with a travel nurse ($110). Call 206-296-4960, or see

Group Health Cooperative: Members should contact Group Health's Travel Advisory Service for immunizations, medications and travel advice. Call 206-326-3488 or 800-562-6300, or see

UW Medicine Hall Health Center travel clinic: Medications, immunizations and pretravel consultations ($176) on the campus of the University of Washington. Call 206-685-1060, or see

Bartell Drugs: Bartell Drugs operates international travel clinics in 11 Seattle-area locations. Consultations are $50. See

— Carol Pucci

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I've sipped Ayran, a frothy yogurt drink made with water and salt, in the tent of a Kurdish nomad in Turkey; sampled grasshoppers seasoned with chili powder and lime in Mexico; and eaten kimchee stored in a pot buried in the backyard of a homestay host in Korea.

Only once in many years of traveling have I become sick enough from food to take the medicine I always carry with me. That was in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I ate at a Western-style private club that served an Italian-style pasta and chicken.

For me, eating is part of the fun and adventure of traveling. Some of my most memorable travel experiences have to do with getting to know people over food and drink.

To stay healthy, I follow advice provided by the travel nurses at Group Health Cooperative in Seattle, add a few of my own do's and don'ts, then dive in and eat like a local.

• I stick to bottled water, even in hotels that supply filtered water. "You don't know what the filtration system is like," says Group Health travel nurse Michelle Duffy York. She recommends extra precautions such as carrying a portable sterilizer to plunge into the plastic bottles that might not have been properly sealed.

• I'm a street-food fan (if you are, too, you might want to take a look at Lonely Planet's new book, "The World's Best Street Food"), but play it safe by sticking to sweets such as the unusual treats I found in the Muslim quarter of Xian, China. "Eight Treasures" was a memorable pudding, a 20-cent disc of sticky rice flavored with dates, sugar, sesame and nuts, cooked in a tiny wooden box, then removed intact and served on a stick.

• Don't assume that familiar, Western-style foods are safer than the local fare. My Cambodia experience is an example.

• Become a temporary vegetarian. Undercooked or unrefrigerated meat and chicken attract bacteria. I opted for the "veg" side of the menu while traveling for three weeks in India and never became ill.

• I follow Group Health's advice to take two Pepto-Bismol tablets (generics are fine, too) shortly before each meal. The active ingredient, bismuth subsalicylate, coats the insides, explains Group Health's York, preventing bacteria from sticking to the intestine and spreading.

Pepto-Bismol tablets aren't for everyone. Travelers who can't tolerate aspirin should avoid them, as should those taking certain medicines, pregnant women and children under 12, says York.

Check with your doctor, then if you get the OK, practice reaching into your pocket, unwrapping the tablets with one hand and popping them into your mouth without anyone seeing. Mastering that technique will come in handy should you ever find yourself sipping Ayran with a Kurdish nomad.

Have a travel question? Contact Carol Pucci: travel@carol

On Twitter @carolpucci.

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About Travel Wise

Travel Wise is aimed at helping people travel smart, especially independent travelers seeking good value. Drawing on her own experiences and readers', Carol Pucci covers everything from the best resources to how to tap into the local culture. Her column runs each Sunday in the Travel section.


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