What to eat and drink in Rishikesh
Food in Rishikesh
Rishikesh has an official status of a holy city, therefore it’s prohibited to sell and serve meat here. Although you can find in Rishikesh city a few places that sell meat, you will not find them in Swargashram, the ashram part of the town (where you are most likely to reside). Also, the holy city has a prohibition on alcohol sale.
This city is a vegetarian paradise, every restaurant, ashram and cafe here serves vegetarian food, and you can point your finger to the stuff you don't know and order it being sure you will not get meat in your food.
I advise you to like Indian food and try to eat just like locals. It’s not a coincidence that Indians put lots of pepper, turmeric, ginger, and other spices in their food. These spices help strengthen your immune system and fight unwanted guests like parasites and unusual bacterias. The Indian dishes practically have no fresh vegetables, the vegetables are either cooked or fermented. These processes help dispose of most of the microorganisms, which will not happen, if you order, say, a fresh salad. Most likely, the vegetables for such salad will be washed with tap water that may contain pathogens like the amoeba. I don't urge you to become paranoid. I have lived in India for many years and I ate salads, washed my fruits with tap water and used tap water while brushing my teeth, and I am still fine (or so it seems to me). I mean to say that in a situation when you’re in India for the first time, you want to minimize risks and shocks to your system, and it would make sense to be careful. One of such precautionary measures is eating Indian food. If you don't like Indian, then thermally treated dished would be your second best option.
Usually, travel guides don't recommend to order fresh juices (especially vegetable juices) for the same reason of them being washed with the same tap water. In this regard, orange juice is a much better option as an orange would be peeled. Many people, including me, disregard such recommendations and drink fresh juices in large amounts, but I make sure that the juices contain no added water or ice, as ice would often be made from a simple tap water, often unfiltered and therefore “enriched” with microorganisms. From this point of view, the safest drink in Rishikesh is a hot one, like tea, chai (Indian tea with milk and spices) or hot “ginger lemon honey”. According to the same logic, it’s best to avoid desserts like ice-cream and just buy a pile of fresh fruits on the market, especially the ones you can peel, like oranges, papaya, mango, etc.
Water in India
It’s not recommended to drink tap water in Rishikesh because it can be contaminated with microorganisms. There are sources of water you can drink: boiled tap water, bottled water, and filtered water which can be obtained from the filters in some restaurants and ashrams.
Bottled water is OK to drink, but it has one problem. Very often the source of this water is not some remote mountains creeks but wells dug in industrial and agricultural places. In such places, the soil is quite often contaminated with large amounts of pesticides and herbicides. While bottle water is purified from bacteria other microorganisms, usually it is not purified for chemicals like pesticides. Thus, one can easily find reports of studies on contamination of bottle water with these harmful compounds. By the way, the only water brand that was not contaminated with pesticide residues in the study was Evian. Moreover, taking into attention the fact that utilization of plastic in India is not well developed, we don't want to produce heaps of plastic garbage. Therefore, not replying entirely on bottled water would be a good idea both for health and for the environment.
In this light, the other option - refilling your bottle with filtered water from ashrams and restaurants - seems like more healthy and environmentally friendly alternative. Here, though, you also need to be aware of one thing: the quality of the filter. There are different filters out there, and the simplest ones contain coal-based cartridge that does not filter all the microorganisms and require frequent change, which might not necessarily happen in Indian conditions. I have been noticing more and more new types of modern filters in Rishikesh, the ones that employ technologies of reverse osmosis and UV-treatment of water. This guarantees more thorough purification of your water and you might end up with a result far better than bottled water. So my advise is to locate these filters in restaurants and ashrams of Rishikesh and refill your bottles there.