No country on earth offers such a mouth watering array of street foods, combining influences from myriad cultural and ethnic traditions into such a simmering medley of spicy deliciousness as India! Made in conditions of often dubious hygiene, the sheer panache and enthusiasm of Indian snack food vendors quickly overrules and squeamishness. Washed down with a lime soda, a chai or a lassi, these snacks offer a visceral crunch, a spicy heat, a fragrant aroma, and an experience of Indian life like none other! Here are some of our favourites:
Mumbai’s Chowpatty beach is the true home of bhel puri, made from puffed rice and Sev (a fried snack shaped like thin noodles made from besan flour) mixed with potatoes, onions, Chat masala and chutney. Bhelpuri has a typically Gujarati balance of sweet, salty, tart and spicy flavors. Try Sharmajee’s (No 22) or Badshah’s (No 11), amid the cluster of stalls opposite the Levi’s Store, where rugs are spread out and bhel puri “touts” will bring it over to you.
(2) Vada paav
Vada paav are Potato patties mashed with garlic, chillies and coriander are dipped in chickpea flour, fried golden, then laid in “pav” – a springy white bap that’s well buttered, spread with coriander chutney and sprinkled with garlic and chilli powder. You’ll find these all over though Pune and Mumbai have particularly good versions! Variations of the basic dish include “cheese vada pav” (where slices of cheese are added); there is “Szechwan vada pav” (where the pav is layered with a Szechwan, or Sichuan-style, sauce); “samosa pav” (where a samosa is used instead of a vada); and “jain vada pav” (where vada ingredients do not include onions, garlic and potatoes). Vada pav served in the nearby state of Gujarat is usually fried in butter or edible oil. The pav is first fried in a mixture of butter or oil and dried red chili powder. After that the chutney is applied in the hot fried pav and the vada is placed in between. This is the only difference between vada pav in Gujarat and Maharashtra. In the state of Gujarat, the original un-fried vada pav recipe is referred to as “Bombay vada pav”.
(3) Chole Bhature
This is definitely a Delhi snack though it’s Punjabi in origin (go figure)! Basically, its a combination of chickpea curry served with deep fried flour puris. In some places it is very spicy, at other places it has tangy taste and the consistency of the curry also varies from slightly thick to semi-dry and dry. Served with sliced onions, green chilies and lemon wedges.
(4) Aloo Tikki’s from Lucknow! “Aloo” means potato, and the word “tikki” means a small cutlet or croquette. Generally, it is served hot along with saunth, tamarind and coriander-mint chutney (sauce), known as Hari chutney, and sometimes yogurt or chick peas. Lucknow, in Uttar Pradesh has a long tradition of courting food and has its own cuisine, called Awadhi. Rulers of this city – Nawabs – during the Moghul Empire did little ruling but more of promoting art and culture which may have been the origin of these delectable patties!
(5) Egg Rolls: Kolkata: “Dada duto egg roll deben toh” (Dada please make 2 egg rolls for me) …these are perhaps the most frequent words you will hear if you are passing by a busy street of Kolkata. A very common and popular snack of Kolkata is Egg Roll. It’s specially prepared during the evening time for the students and office going public to satisfy their hunger after a gruelling day. Every street has a joint to cater to this huge crowd. The sellers are swift and efficient, cooking up multiple parathas (layered bread cooked on a griddle) in one huge skillet, simultaneously breaking eggs with a single tap with immense perfection and rolling up the “Rolls” to hand them over to eager waiting hands, wrapped in a thin pale paper.
If you want to read more about India’s street food, grab yourself a copy of Street Food of India: The 50 Greatest Indian Snacks – Complete with Recipes by Sephi Bergson. The acclaimed photographer Sephi Bergerson has been tracking down the very best street food in the country, which has been his home for the past seven years. The resulting book is a visual celebration of this splendid everyday cuisine and a virtual feast in itself. With nearly 50 authentic and detailed recipes for the simplest and tastiest dishes in the repertoire, using ingredients easily sourced in the West, this serving will inspire and intoxicate in equal measure.