Finding meals-on-the-go is never a problem in India …. instant gratification is the Indian mantra as far as food goes. Be it full meals, bite-sized on-the-go snacks, breakfast, lunch, tea or dinner, the teeming cities of the sub-continent are bustling with gastronomic delights. Vendors are everywhere with regular customers and a die-hard loyal clientele, churning out delicious, cheap and quick food with options galore and reasonable prices. For a foodie, visitor, hungry office-worker, this is street-food Heaven!
Be it Kolkata, Mumbai or New Delhi, cities throughout India boast an array of street foods. Every Indian city has its own specialty of an all time favorite snack. If you are a first-time visitor, the options are mind boggling and it’s easy to get lost in the perhaps unfamiliar words of all the incredible snacking options.
Let me introduce you to the street-food capitals of India and make your choices easier.
Kolkata, ex. Calcutta, known for its multitudes, incessant honking, thunderous noise levels, and famously tagged as the City of Joy, definitely has pride of place as the street-food capital of India! Treat yourself to luchi-aloo dum, spicy chicken curries or chilli-chicken, phucchkas (known as golgappas or paani puris), the Kolkata ‘telebhajha’( slices of onions, eggplants or spicy mashed potatoes dipped in besan and deep-fried in huge cauldrons of bubbling oil) or Kolkata’s spicy fish fries …. perfect evening snacks, momos, dosas, chaaps, samosa, jalebis and the only to be found in Kolkata … Veg Noodles! All washed down with endless cups of sweet milky Chai. The sidewalks have been taken over by the vendors peddling these and much more. Finding something to satiate your hunger, is the easiest thing in the world!
Mumbai, the financial capital of India, also has a tagname…The city that never sleeps. And it literally never does. Street-food delights are round-the-clock! From the ubiquitous Pav to the Vada pav, it is unthinkable that we could go hungry on the streets of Mumbai! It’s not only the Pav, make way for the paani-puris, chaats, samosas, bhel-puris, Sche Zwan noodles, pulaus. fresh-fruit juices and another favorite the South Indian dosa. From being a simple rice flour pancake it has been avatarised to various versions such as the pav-bhaji mix, cheese, and indo-Chinese noodle version, taking it from South Indian homes to the street carts of Mumbai!
The historical capital of the country is a foodie paradise of international cuisines and street food. A walk around the streets or gallis of Old Delhi, crowded and bustling 24×7, lined with iconic and world famous shops, where a meal is an adventure for the taste buds, the street food of ‘Dilli’ will blow your mind!
Crisp tandoori parathas laden with ghee and spicy chole from the famed paranthe wali galli, succulent kebabs and spicy kormas, golgappe or piping hot spicy aloo tikkis served with chole …. this is street-food heaven! The chaats from Delhi are one of the most popular and can hold their own even with tough competition from their equally delicious counterparts elsewhere in the country. Melt in your mouth sweet and sour dahi bhalle, crisp puris topped with various chutneys, there is something for everyone. Be it keema paranthas, aloo tikkkis, chaats, samosa chaat, chole kulche, kulfi falooda, lassi…you may crave day or night!
Street food in South India is both vegetarian as well as non-vegetarian and spicy! Though similar to elsewhere in the country, it is also completely different. Watch out for the dry chutney, the gunpowder ….your head might be blown off with just a touch on the tip of your tongue!
Tuck into mini samosas filled with a spicy meat or mixed vegetable mince and the famous stews flavored with coconut and served with appams. Stalls and carts selling bondas, vadas, crispy dosas, idlis and vellappams. served with coconut chutneys, piping hot sambhars and rasams, flavored with fiery peppercorns and other fierce spices are to be found everywhere.
Here’s a run down of the most popular Indian street foods, including some of my own favorites….
Samosas are fried crispy pasties with a heavily spiced potato filling and sometimes a more exotic spicy minced meat and peas filling. They are a perfect snack for any time of the day and I wonder what the official figure would be for the number of samosas sold on any given day. They’re often paired with a chutney of sorts and can be recognized for their triangular shape.
2. Aloo Tikki
Aloo Tikki is a delicious spicy crispy potato croquette with green chilies and green peas flattened into a pancake shape and served with a tamarind sauce and sometimes also with dahi as a chaat. Easy to eat on-the-go, Aloo Tikkis can be made at home too without much fuss!
A version of the dumpling, momos are native to Tibet and Nepal. Spread across India by the arrival of these folks from the Himalayan mountains and somewhat similar to Chinese dim sums, Indians have adopted momos as a part of Indian fast-food cuisine. Steamed or deep-fried and filled with minced vegetables, chicken or pork, there is no one who can resist one of these spicy bites. Accompanied with that fiery red chili sauce, the momo has sprinted from roadside stalls to food centers and food courts.
4. Pucchkas, Golguppe &Paani Puri
Pucchkas are the Bengali version of Golgappe or Paani Puri. Whatever be the name of these little tangy-minty delights, verbal wars are fought which each region has the best version! The best puchkas are the ones served on the roadsides. No matter how finicky one gets about hygiene, when it comes to these little fried hollow shells stuffed with spicy potatoes and filled with tamarind water, are impossible to resist.
5. Chaat & Paapdi Chaat
Chaat which literally means ‘to lick or taste’ is a North Indian street food. A tangy spicy mix, with a variety of ingredients, most chaats are made with little pieces of nimkis or mattris (fried dough) and topped with curds, sauces, bhujias et al. Chaat can be tangy, spicy, sweet, salty, crunchy and soft all at the same time. It’s truly an explosion of flavours in your mouth and can tingle your taste buds gasping for more. Chaats will not be chaats without a sweet sauce or a green or tamarind chutney!
Paapdi Chaat is a mixture of crisp wafers topped with chick peas, steamed lentil dumplings, creamy yogurt, and tamarind and coriander chutneys. Crunchy, tangy, hot and sweet flavours, combine to create a medley of tastes in your mouth.
6. Pav Bhaji
A popular and a quick and light snack all over India. particularly in Western India, Pav Bhaji is a vegetable potato curry paired with a toasted bun.
The curry is nicely spiced and the bread is often buttered and then toasted on the same hot platter as where the bhaji curry is slow cooking. The vegetable curry can be made with whatever veggies are on hand, but cauliflower, potatoes, and carrots are some of the usual ingredients.
7. Bhel Puri
Bhel Puri is a tangy puffed rice mix. Especially famous in Mumbai, this is the Kolkata version of the famous Indian chaat.
Puffed rice, sev (a fried snack made from besan flour) and the mixture of chuda ( a mix of different types of fried snacks mixed together), are the base of the snack. The dry and fresh ingredients are then dressed and mixed with a tangy tamarind and spicy dressing. It’s tangy, sour, sweet and spicy, crunchy and fresh… in every bite!
8. The Kolkata Kathi Roll
From Kolkata comes one of the most iconic contributions to world cuisine. One of the most famous Kolkata contributions to the world of Indian street food is the Kathi Roll. It is essentially a paratha that is stuffed with a choice of filling, a chicken or mutton or beef kebab and raw onions, green chilies, eggs and rolled into a handheld wrapped treat.
That old eating-house Nazim’s is credited with introducing the original kati roll to the world.
For food-on-the-go, nothing can beat the ubiquitous Dosa or the Masala dosa! A dosa is a South India fermented crepe made with a rice and lentil batter, while the ‘Masala’ one is stuffed with a delicious stuffing of lightly cooked boiled potatoes, onion, mustard seeds, curry leaves and green chilies and served with a variety of coconut chutneys and sambhar. A healthy, tasty and affordable meal option it is synonymous with Indian fast food.
After negotiating the hazards of traffic, heat and pollution that is India’s metropolitan cities. Along with all that delicious spicy street food, an energizing beverage is required to help you rejuvenate. And the pan-India choice is the ‘chai’! A piping hot brew, sweet and milky, served in little clay cups, it is a great upper!
I’m not done with Indian street food …. The list is endless and the possibilities to explore even further so may be in the future I shall return with further choices and picks.
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