Say empanadas, singara, ceviche, akoyaki or bugatsa and some of you would be wondering what on earth am I referring to. But say vada pav, idli-dosa, aloo tikki or chicken tikka and you are dead sure what I am talking about. Street food. India is worth visiting just for its street food and its regional specialities. Unlike sitting in a restaurant and waiting for your ordered meal to arrive, street food can be had instantly as you watch it being cooked right in front of you. You can satisfy both your hunger and taste buds with a variety of dishes sold on food carts in almost every nook and corner of Indian cities. In fact, this is what and how an average Indian eats every day. Cheap, diverse and authentic, Indian street food is mouth-watering and will make you run for a bite. By the way, the above-mentioned names are street foods from Argentina, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Japan and Greece respectively.
Here’s a mouth-watering list of desi street foods that are worth travelling for:
Uniquely from Punjab, this popular dish has now become almost ubiquitous all over India. In Delhi, in particular, this Punjabi delicacy has taken its lovers by storm. The richness of the gravy-laden chickpeas combined with that of the fluffy bhature fried or cooked in tandoors or in clay ovens makes it a lip-smacking dish. It is a hearty and complete meal in itself which is often served with onions, pickle and raw green chillies. Bhature is usually plain but you get them with a filling of paneer or potato as well. In Old Delhi, Sita Ram Dewan Chand in Paharganj is quite famous for its spicy and tangy chole bhature. But if and when you are in Chandigarh, or in any part of Punjab for that matter, you can enjoy this recipe for breakfast, lunch and dinner anywhere. But always have them hot because that’s when they taste best.
Paratha is yet another staple of most Punjabi households. While travelling in the northern part of India, one can find paratha anywhere and everywhere — in a dhaba, on a cart, or in a restaurant. Alternative spellings and names can be parauntha, prontha, parontay, porota, palata, depending on which part of India you are in. The most versatile street food has travelled to Mauritius, Sri Lanka and Maldives as well, where it is known as farata. You can have it either plain or stuffed with a variety of vegetables — cauliflower, potato, onion, or paneer, and keema for non-vegetarians. The popularity of this favourite Indian food was so much that Old Delhi has an area, Parathewali Gali, dedicated to serving up all its possible varieties. Have paratha for breakfast, lunch or dinner with some cold curd and enjoy the delectable offering.
Aloo Tikki Chaat
You can say that this popular North Indian street food is the equivalent of the American hash brown. Made out of boiled potatoes, peas and various curry spices, it can be served as a snack, a side dish or a light meal. The vendor that you go to makes fat and crispy potato patties right in front of you with preferences of sweet and sour tamarind chutney, whisked curd and garnished with onions, green chilies and crispy sev. You can get it customised according to your taste — how tangy, spicy, sweet or salty you want it. In Mumbai, the same aloo tikki is called ragda pattice. The Chowpatti Beach ragda pattice is very popular with the locals and tourists alike. The real flavour of the Delhi street food lies in the tongue-tickling chaat. Without visiting Shree Balaji Chaat Bhandar at Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi, your trip to the capital remains incomplete.
Pav Bhaji is synonymous with Mumbai, but lately, this has become one of the most famous street foods in India. Introduced almost two centuries ago to serve textile workers in and around Mumbai, pav bhaji now figures on the menu of almost every North Indian restaurant. Though you can have it anywhere, gorging on a pav-bhaji in Mumbai is an unmatched experience. Mumbaikars love to have it as a breakfast meal but you can have its interesting versions — mushroom, Chinese, and the Chowpatty pav bhaji, any time of the day. Cannon Pav Bhaji at Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus is famous for its orange-coloured and mildly flavoured bhaji with nicely toasted pav. Mumbai local passengers and tourists walk over to this place for a quick bite.
Idli & Dosa
Roughly 1,000 years old and having the stamp of originality that is typically Indian, both idli and dosas are indigenous to South India, yet both now have the ubiquitous presence from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. Both have the potential as worthy contenders to becoming national dishes. There are many varieties of dosa, the most popular being the masala dosa, with a filling of the potato masala along with coconut chutney and sambar; Mysore masala is its spicier version, and plain dosa is without any filling. Paper dosa is a thin and crisp version while rava dosa is made crispier using semolina. Madras Hotel (now closed) in Connaught Place, New Delhi, became a landmark that was one of the first restaurants to serve South Indian cuisine. In the 1930s, it arrived in Mumbai with Udupi restaurants. Most South Indian households have idli dosa in every meal. In the opinion of legendary British chef Gordon Ramsay, idli and dosa were the safest and tastiest foods conceived and conceptualised by humans. He called them ‘international dishes’ because of dosa’s aesthetically unique texture and idli’s smoothness. He opined that you can eat it every day, yet will not get fed up.
Never forgetting dosa’s lingering taste, the Darjeeling-born Gone with the Wind star Vivien Leigh had a masala dosa at perhaps the oldest South Indian restaurant on Park Street, Calcutta, in 1932 and got hooked to it.
Walk down the streets of any city of Madhya Pradesh and you will find most people snacking on poha jalebi, which is a favoured breakfast dish. Tangy poha made with flattened rice topped with savouries accompanied by crispy sweet jalebis are the perfect way to start the day for most. This, along with Bhopali Sulaimani chai, is what ideal mornings are made of. If you are in Bhopal, the state capital, Raju Tea Stall in Peer Gate Area and Kalyan Singh’s Swaad Bhandar on Itwara Road are the two best places to have this humble yet healthy dish. Delectable seekh kebabs and Bhopali biryani are not to be missed either.
Indore’s namkeen and jalebas (king-sized jalebis), too, are mouth-watering dishes for which Jai Bhole Jalebi Bhandar in Sarafa Market is well-known.
The way the cute little dumplings called momos have become one of the most favourite street foods is really amazing. Whether food courts or food carts, momos have tickled the nations’ taste buds and they are selling like hotcakes. Since momos are native to Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan and northeastern states of India, originally, these were prepared with the stuffing of yak meat, but gradually they became vegetarian-ised. So, today, you can have momos stuffed with cheese, cabbage-onion, mix-vegetable, etc. There’s also the option of choosing pan-fried or deep-fried. Young North-Eastern Indians serving piping hot, steamy and succulent momos dipped in flavoursome spicy garlic sauce in different nooks and corners of a metropolis are a common sight now.