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For almost as long as I can remember, we have been told to be careful about pork in India. This is good advice because pork is more likely to host parasites than say, goat. And there are many well-documented cases of people who eat Indian pork and discover months later that there are parasites living in their bodies.
It is because of this fear that most Indian either cook pork very thoroughly at high temperatures to kill all parasites or avoid cooking pork at home entirely. Many Five Star hotels import their pork on grounds of safety.
In recent years however, the pork farming industry in India has advanced rapidly and while I’m still not thrilled with the quality of the pork in our shops, it seems likely that the dangers of parasitic influence have been reduced.
What we don’t realise however is that the danger has shifted to another category of food: leafy vegetables.
Doctors will tell you that many of the cases of so called pork-parasite that they have seen recently occur in people who are either vegetarians or don’t eat pork.
The chances are (and all the evidence is anecdotal) that they got the parasite from eating raw cabbage or cabbage that had not been properly cooked. Another source of danger is lettuce. The person who found a worm at a fast-food outlet recently and created a fuss about it may have complained the loudest but he was hardly the first to encounter worms, insects or parasites in lettuce and other salad vegetables.
So how do you cope?
My solution is extreme. I will not eat any salad at a restaurant where I am not certain that the kitchen checks the vegetables carefully --- and that includes every place with a high turnover, especially a Quick Service Restaurant. I will never ever eat from a salad bar in India.
I will always avoid coleslaw and other dishes that have raw cabbage or other such potential parasite hosts as part of the recipe. If somebody puts coleslaw as a topping for a sandwich or a burger, I will ask them to serve it to me without the slaw.
Yes, this is extreme. And you needn’t go that far (though I do draw the line at all-day salad bars in fast-food places).
But remember that the Western rules of healthy eating do not necessarily apply to Indian conditions. In India you are better off eating a side of delicious crispy bacon than a plate of lettuce. Any parasites in the bacon have been killed in the cooking process. Any parasites in the lettuce, on the other hand, are just dying to enter your gut!