Indian appetite for street food is insatiable and the variety on offer is mind-boggling. Join ANURAG MALLICK and PRIYA GANAPATHY on a food journey of the best street eats from around the country
It is often said that in India, food and language change every few kilometers. In a vast country like ours, street food is as diverse and limitless, with each region having its own specialties. Many food connoisseurs consider India’s capital Delhi as the national street food capital. From Parathe wale gali in Chandni Chowk to late night anda parathas at Moolchand, thukpa in Tibetan Market to various state stalls in Dilli Haat, Delhi’s street food scene is exciting.
Bittoo, the male protagonist in the movie ‘Band Baaja Baaraat’ would earnestly profess ‘Bread pakodey ki kasam.’ Delhiites are likely to swear by their favourite snack as easily as they swear at their best friend. While chhole bhature is typically Delhi, on the streets you are more likely to find pushcarts or bicycles with large brass containers selling chhola kulcha, a soft flatbread served with chhole that’s dry or curried. Hawkers trawl the streets and office complexes carrying baskets of ‘ram laddoo’ or deep fried moong dal pakodas, topped with grated radish and coriander chutney.
In the evening, vendors clang their tavas to announce deep-fried aloo tikki or aloo chat. Roasted shakkarkandi (sweet potato chat), bread-omelette and boiled eggs topped with onion, green chilis, coriander leaves, salt and chaat masala rule in winter while summer spells lassi, shikanji, bel ka sharbat (wood apple squash), sattu, bhanta (goli soda) and chuski (ice gola) to quench people’s thirst.
Thanks to the significant population of immigrants from Darjeeling and the North East, momo stalls have sprouted all over Delhi like startups in Bangalore. Explore the bylanes of the old city with Delhi Food Walks.
One place that rivals Delhi for the tag of food capital is Amritsar. The first eateries popped up around the ‘Lake of Nectar’ being excavated that gave the city its name. The common staple is kulcha, a thick aloo paratha cooked in a tandoor and served with bowls of chana, longi (a chutney made of potato, onion, tamarind and mint) and butter. ‘Suchha da Kulcha’ on Maqbool Road, ‘Ashok da Kulcha’ on Ranjit Avenue and ‘Darshan Kulcha wala’ near Jamadar ki Haveli are the top kulcha joints in town.
For Amritsari chhole, there’s ‘Kesar ka Dhaba’ at Chowk Pasiyan, ‘Bade Bhai ka Brothers Dhaba’ and ‘Bharawan da Dhaba’ at Town Hall. Try the tandoori chicken at Beera Chicken on Majitha Road and Amritsari machhi at Makhan Fishwala and Surjit Food Plaza in Nehru Complex. Wash it all down with lassi at Ahuja Milk Bhandar at Lohagadh Gate or Gyan di lassi.
Mumbaikars are equally passionate about their city’s eats. From bhelpuri at Chowpatty, chaat at Elco Market, late night roomali rolls at Bade Miyan or fruit with ice cream at Bachelorr’s, Mumbai has its chosen haunts. Besides the ubiquitous vada paav, there’s paav in every form – misal paav, paav bhaji and keema paav. Sure, there’s ragda pattice (chana and aloo tikki chaat), but on the national food stage, Mumbai’s frugal eats fare the same as we would in an all-India exam, ‘satisfactory, but can do better’.
Mumbai’s eponymous quick fix the Bombay sandwich is made at roadside stalls with slices of potato, onion, cucumber, tomato and cheese between pressed toast. Competing with Mumbai’s dabbawalas are the unsung poha makers, a local household industry and the idli-vada vendors of Matunga, which harbours a significant Tamil population.
Parsi-run Irani cafes dish out brun maska and tea all day long. During Ramzan, the mile-long stretch from Bohri Mohalla to Mohammed Ali Road teems with food stalls selling baida roti, rolls, kebabs, malpua and phirni. The same ambience can be found in Nagpur’s Mominpura.
In Ahmedabad, locals throng roadside stalls like Shri Ambika Dal Vada Centre selling hot lentil pakodas with onion and fried chili. After the jewellery shops in the gold district Manek Chowk down their shutters, the entire area transforms into one giant open-air food court. Local businessmen don’t mind; it’s free security till 2 am! Understandably, a lot of real estate is devoted to churans, digestives and mukhwas (mouth fresheners). However, not everything is vegetarian in Amdavad. Bhatiyar Galli is packed with Muslim non-veg fare like salli gosht, mutton samosas, kebabs and patties (puffs).
Besides khandvi and khaman (dhokla), Gujarat’s most popular snack is Kutchi Dabeli, a desi burger invented in Mandvi, made with potato, masala, chutneys of tamarind, date, garlic, red chilies and garnished with pomegranate and roasted peanuts. Since the filling is ‘pressed’ together between two buns, the dish is called ‘dabeli’. On an average, 20 lakh dabelis are consumed across Kutch every day.
Surat is synonymous with undhiyu, a mixed vegetable dish, literally ‘upside down’ as the dish is traditionally cooked underground in upturned pots with fire from above. Another Surat special is Surti ‘12 handi’ – paaya (trotters) and assorted meat parts simmering in twelve different handis or pots.
In neighbouring Rajasthan, cities are associated with their unique snacks. If Jaipur is known for its pyaaz kachori (best at Rawat Mishthan Bhandar and the iconic Lakshmi Mishthan Bhandar or LMB) and Bikaner has its signature Bikaneri bhujiya, Jodhpur wins hands down with its mirchi bada and mawa kachori. Sign up for a Bazaar, Crafts & Cuisine walk with Virasat Experiences and eat your way through the streets of Jaipur, trying out ghevar, imarti and makhaniya lassi.
In Madhya Pradesh, Gwalior’s local snack is bedai, a poori stuffed with spiced lentils. Every morning, regulars queue up at SS Kachoriwala and Bahadura, an 80-year-old shop in Naya Bazaar for samosa, kachori, scrumptious jalebis and gulab jamuns. Dilli Parathe Wala at Sarafa Bazaar, Agrawal Puri Bhandar at Nayi Sadak and Shankerlal Halwai’s laddus aren’t to be missed, besides the mandatory pack of gajak (sesame, sugar and ghee sweet) from Ratiram Gajak or Morena Gajak Bhandar.
Indore, royal seat of the Holkars, bears a strong Maratha influence, evident in their love for poha, except that they couple it with jalebi! Sharing a border with Gujarat and Rajasthan, khaman and dal-bati are integral to the Malwa region. Indore’s street food scene is legendary with stalls at Sarafa dispensing garadu (deep fried sweet potato), dahi bada, bhutte ka kees (grated corn fried in ghee and spices), batla (green peas) kachori, sev and khopra patties – an aloo bonda with grated coconut inside! Chhappan Dukaan, a commercial precinct of ‘56 shops’, mostly food joints, is home to legends like Johnny Hot Dog and Madhuram’s shikanji, a sweet concoction of thickened milk and dry fruits.
Many cities have a khau galli or ‘Eat Street’ where locals congregate for their daily fix. In Lucknow, Hazratganj and Chowk, the old market stretching between Gol Darwaza and Akbari Darwaza, constitute ultimate foodie heaven. Melt-in-your-mouth kebabs like shami, kakori and galawati are sold at stalls like Tunday Kebab, alongside kulcha-nihari and Lucknowi biryani at Idris or Lalla. Awadhi cuisine, unhurried and delectable, is best savoured in various halwas and desserts like nimish or makkhan malai.
The most popular ‘naashta’ or breakfast item across the Hindi heartland is poori-sabzi. In Allahabad and Varanasi, locals also love their kalakand and lal peda. Everywhere in India, bhutta (corn) and moongfali (peanuts), variously called jig nuts, kadlekayi, singh dana or ‘timepass’, are anytime eats, grabbed on the go at traffic lights or by the kerb. In the south, they like their groundnuts and corncobs steamed!
The ultimate street food of all time is golgappa, which is known by different names and comes in subtle variations. Pani puri, puchka, gupchup, pani patase, call it what you may, it evokes the same emotions. Holding a makeshift sal leaf cup, awaiting your turn, you open your mouth till the world sees your epiglottis as you relish the burst of flavours and tangy explosion of tamarind water as you gobble a golgappa whole. It’s an unwritten rule that every round of pani puri must be followed by papdi chat, the drier version, and a gratis sukha (dry one sans masala) in the end.
In Kolkata, besides kaati rolls, biryani and Bengali sweets, the samosa’s smaller cousin, the singada and aloo chop rule the roost. Kolkata’s eastern nook of Tangra is legendary for its Chinese joints. No train journey in these parts is complete without jhaal muri or puffed rice, spiced with mustard oil, peanuts, Bengal gram mixture, onion, chili, coriander, potato cubes and pickle masala, rattled expertly in a dabba with a spoon and served in a thonga (paper packet) with a sliver of coconut.
Every evening in Bihar, locals snack on mudhi (puffed rice) with kachri (onion/potato fritters) or chura bhuja (roasted flat rice) with lal chana. Bihar’s most well known export is litti-chokha, roundels of dough stuffed with spiced sattu (roasted gram flour), which are doused in ghee and relished with potato mash and thin tomato chutney. Bhola Kewat is a litti legend in Ranchi. Another Jharkhand classic is dhuska, a thick fried poori made of powdered rice and chana dal.
Nearby ‘Steel City’ Jamshedpur, with its multi-cultural, cosmopolitan air, has its superstars – “Tambi ka dosa, Fakira ka chanachur, Hari ka golgappa, Bauwwa ji ka chai, Kewat ka litti, Lakhi ka rolls, Bhatia ka milkshake…” Jampot folks go into raptures over the taste of nostalgia, reminiscing about their street food heroes like kids obsessing over WrestleMania cards.
Pahala, midway between Bhubaneswar and Cuttack, is lined with shops displaying large cauldrons of rasgulla, supposedly invented in Odisha before local maharajas (cooks) popularized it in Kolkata after migrating to Bengal. Another Odiya heavyweight besides chhena poda and chhena gaja is Dhenkanal bada, a dal vada served with ghugni (yellow pea curry).
Puffed rice or mudhi is consumed all over India, from Odisha, Bengal and Bihar to Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where it is known as pori. Across North Karnataka, it’s called mandakki and stalls in Davanagere furiously stir it into spicy variants like khara mandakki, nargis or girmit. At dusk, little angadis (shops) dispense hot mensinkayi bajjis (chili pakoda) from Bijapur to Bangalore. Here, an evening snack is not just local tradition, but considered a sacred birthright. People love their bajjis (fritters) made of potato, onion, lentils or raw banana.
If Maddur is synonymous with Maddur vada and Davangere with its benne dosa made with dollops of white butter, Mangaluru boasts teatime snacks like goli bajji, Mangalore Buns, ambode, uppitu-shira and khara roti. In Hubli’s ‘khau galli’ Durgada Bail, stalls sell unique dishes like ‘tomato omelette.’ Cultural capital Mysore has the holy triumvirate of Mysore dosa, Mysore bonda and Mysore pak (a ghee drenched sweet).
In Bangalore, major food haunts like VV Puram, Malleswaram, Shivaji Nagar and Mosque Road resound with the chomps of hungry masses. The quick and cheap rolls of Fanoos have sated appetites for years. Local outfits run food walks through the pettah (Old Bangalore), Frazer Town, Basavangudi, Russell Market and Military Hotels.
In Hyderabad, feasting continues in the city of Nizams with biryani, keema samosas, haleem and paaya. Tamil Nadu goes into raptures over their dosai and vadai as much as parottas, besides soondal, a salad of garbanzo beans or chickpeas tempered with onion, chilli, mustard seeds, curry leaves and coconut. Every evening, Chennaiites head straight to the fish fry stalls on Elliott Beach to nibble on an assortment of local fish.
Across Kerala, the morning starts with puttu-kadla, steamed cylindrical rice cakes with black chickpea curry. Chips made of banana, tapioca and jackfruit are fried in roadside stalls like Kumari Banana Chips in Kozhikode. But the northern tract of Malabar promises a world of lesser-known Moplah delicacies – assorted pathiris (rice pancakes stuffed with egg or meats), bonda, ari kaduka (rice stuffed in green mussels), spindle-shaped unnakaya (mashed banana stuffed with coconut, nuts and raisin) and pazham nerchadu (banana fritters).
Like Iyengar bakeries in Bangalore and other colonial haunts across India, Kerala too has its share of outlets dispensing baked goodies. From Mambally’s in Thalassery, Kerala’s first bakery that opened in 1883 to Delecta and Cochin Bakery in Kozhikode, the bakery culture is omnipresent in India right up to distant Srinagar.
The famous Ahdoos and traditional Sofi-run bakeries churn out khara biscuit, sheermal (saffron flatbread), baqerkhani (puff pastry), lavas (unleavened bread) and kulchas (brittle bread) topped with sesame and poppy seeds, avidly consumed with kehwa (Kashmiri tea) and sheer or noon chai (salty tea).
In Himalayan regions like Ladakh, Sikkim and Darjeeling, locals pop churpi or yak cheese cubes like popcorn. It smells vile, tastes like cardboard and takes hours to melt in your mouth, but somehow they love it. No matter which street corner you hang around, there’s a food stall beckoning you with a local bite that begs to be tried…
Authors: Anurag Mallick & Priya Ganapathy. This article appeared on 8 October 2017 in Sunday Herald, the Sunday supplement of Deccan Herald.