Cultural Experience | India

Best Street Food in India

In India you will find at least one food stall in the remotest lane at midnight and the fragrance of masala(spices) and the sound of friction of his spoon against the tawa (fry pan) will compel you to walk towards it.

Although we have the opulent and grand Taj Mahal Hotel on the salty coast of Mumbai and the JW Marriot in the historic streets of Delhi, these luxurious restaurants are not where the locals frequent. You will find them standing on a roadside and greedily waiting for their small cup of masala tea from a portable vendor or demanding some more gravy in their usal at a tiny stall.

People who make their lively hoods by selling food on the streets have come together and established ‘khau galli’s (food lanes) in the metropolitian cities. These lanes offer a variety of lip-smacking Indian, Muglai and Chinese delicacies (the occasion Italian as well) and are crowded with locals, tourists and curious foodies alike. Others have simply set up small food stalls under banyan trees, on beaches, near public gardens and any place where hordes of people gather. Here is a small list of the best street food the major cities in India offer:

Mumbai- Vada Pav

For any Mumbaikar the only thing better than their mother’s roti is the spicy vada pav. It is a fairly simple but this delicious assortment has hypnotized Mumbaikars for decades. The vada is a mixture of potatoes boiled using turmeric and then rolled into balls, put into batter and deep fried. The pav is an ordinary bun sliced halfway in the middle, lathered on the inside with mint chutney and spices. The vada is then inserted in the pav and eaten with hands along with a side of raw chillies. Found easily on every turning in Mumbai, the best ones are found in the Khau Gali at Ghatkopar. This dish, like the city of Mumbai, can be speedily prepared and speedily eaten. It is preferred by the busy locals who don’t have much time to spare.

Pune- Misal Pav

Pune is a very slow city, the traffic moves slowly, the waiter serve food slowly, the people walk around train stations slowly. Naturally their favourite dish is one which is to be peacefully enjoyed when you have some time on your hands. The ‘missal’ can be made from a variety of lentils and has a spicy gravy in it, this is then sprinkled with crunchy ‘farsan’ (India’s answer for chips) and mixed in a wide plate. Then a small piece is to be torn from the pav, dipped in the gravy and while picking up some sprouts along the way, put immediately in your mouth. The moment you feel it on your tongue, the spices explode in your mouth and transports you to a land where sugar doesn’t exist.

People crowding around a small Vada Pav stall

People crowding around a small Vada Pav stall

Kolhapur- Veg. Kolhapuri

So beloved by the people of Kolhapur, the dish was named after them. This is a vegetable mixture eaten with roti at formal dinners or special occasions. Popular for being the spiciest Indian dish it is in restaurants around India. But the best (i.e. spiciest) is served on the streets of Kolhapur. It is a mix vegetable salad pored generously with spices and keeping handy a bottle of cold water is mandatory.

Shimla-Dim Sums

Shimla is located high in the arms of the Himalayas, naturally it is freezing cold and the food is prepared to generate heat in the human body. The Pahari (people who live on the Himalayan regions) are friendly and helpful, so their favourite dish is the easily prepared and easily devoured dim-sums. A mixture of vegetables or eggs or chicken are put in a thin sheet made of rice flour and then steamed. They are delicious, filling and (while eaten with the spicy chutney) are like a miniature dynamite.

Delhi- Golgappey

It is impossible to have a conversation with a Delhite without him mentioning the mystical savouriness of golgappey. These are small, thin and crunchy balls of wheat filled with curd, tamarind chutney, mint chutney and ragda (lentils). Found at every street corner, the traditional golgappeys sold at Janpath’s and Chandni Chowk are the best in all of India. Don’t forget to ask for a sukha puri (extra dry golgappa with a slice of potato and chat masala) for free!

Surat- Dhokla

The state of Gujarat has the best variety of street food to offer- dhokla, khakra, fafda, khandwa, thepla and many more with interesting names and incredible tastes. The most popular Gujarati dish around India is Dhokla, made of only chana dal (lentils) this soft and chewy bit-sized wonder is dipped in mint or tamarind chutney and eaten at every Gujarati household.


A Hyderabadi Biryani and Tava Pulao stand

A Hyderabadi Biryani and Tava Pulao stand

Hyderabad- Hyderabadi Biryani

Biryani is debatably the most reknowed Indian delicacy served around the world and the best one is found on the streets of Hyderabad. Colourful Basmati Rice with chicken gravy and a side dish of sweet kurma is the historic specialty of the heritage city of Hyderabad. The most original and traditional biryani is found around Char Minar.

Chennai-Idli Sambar

The entire south India is popular for their dishes comprising ingredients such as rice and coconut. Their most popular inventions are idli chutney/sambar, masala dosa, uttapa, appam, dal vada and many more. Their dearest, found all around south India but especially Chennai is Idli and Sambar. Idli, a rice cake and Sambar, a tamarind gravy are put into a plate and alongside coconut chutney.

Staying hydrated by driking flavoured sodas

Staying hydrated by drinking flavoured sodas

Deep fried samosas are eaten ardently around many Michelin stared restaurants and ‘Kokam Sherbet’ is a drink recommended by nutritionists and Ayurveda. But there is more to Indian food than what you eat at international food chains mainly because the genuine traditional food is served in India. Although we now get mayonnaise in vada pavs and cheese masala dosas (the effects of globalization) there are still places in India which proudly serve the original dishes preferred by the Mughal Kings and Maratha Warriors. These dishes hidden in the obscure streets which form a maze or served under a cornerside banyan tree, are the true heritage of India and trying them is nothing less than a privilege.

Purva Indulkar

K.P.B. Hinduja College, Mumbai | 10 stories

Purva Indulkar is a student of Mass Communications in Mumbai, India. She is a voracious reader, amateur writer, aspiring journalist, movie fanatic, proud foodie and a curious traveller. Not all those who wander are lost :)

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