When you are roaming the streets of India’s cities and suburbs, you will find one common factor that unites them all. No, it is not the excessive honking of vehicles overcrowding the roads. Neither is it the numerous potholes, uneven pavements and surprise ditches that one encounters whilst trying to walk down the streets. It is in fact, the endless street stalls and stands that offer quick, tasty and creative snacks to satisfy your hunger. The best thing about street food in India, is that your impatient hunger need not wait very long to be satiated by the textures, flavours, temperatures and colours offered by these hard-working street vendors.
Here are some of my favourite street items that I indulge in to satisfy my notorious state of hangry.
Pani Puri/Golgappas - Pani puri, or Gol Gappas (as it is known in the north) are a must-taste street food and treasured by all Indians (not even generalising here). The complexity involved in this dish lies in the textures and layers added. The ‘puri’ is a deep fried bread, which puffs once dunked in hot oil and hardens when removed from it. ‘Pani’ means water in Hindi, and in this dish, it is flavoured with an array of spices including cumin powder, chaat masala, fresh mint and coriander, giving it a green appearance. A hole is made in the puri by pressing the thumb against it until the surface cracks. Either boiled mashed potatoes or chickpeas are added into the puri, followed by finely cut purple onions and then the tangy Pani. The trick is to eat the puri as a whole without making a mess of yourself (yet to master this). What amazes me the most about pani puri is not the dish itself, but how it is dished out, making it the ultimate act of multitasking. Each plate contains 5 puris, served one at a time because as soon as you add the water, the puri has to be consumed else it will not hold. The vendor can be serving up to 5 to 7 people at a time, customising each puri (bhayaa - pyaaz nahin chahiye, bhayaa mujhe extra aloo chahiye, brother - no onions, brother I want extra potato) as it is gulped down. As he serves the customised puris to the different customers, he is also keeping count of how many they consume all at once. Sometimes I go to the pani puri stand to merely admire how these vendors have mastered multi-tasking, and that too, in the dust and heat whilst their hungry customers await their fulfillment.
Aloo Tikki Chaat - Let’s admit that the humble potato is no doubt the greatest vegetable of all time because it can be prepared in literally a thousand ways. On the streets in India, a popular preparation of potato is known as Aloo Tikki Chaat - a spicy potato patty/cake served with tangy chutneys. I remember the first time that I tasted this street food - I wanted something simple and I saw the perfectly shaped patties sitting on the edge of the large tava (a flat, handle-less pan usually made of cast iron). I hungrily asked the vendor for just one patty which he warmed on the tava and put onto a plate. I reached my hand out to take it from him when to my alarm, he mashed the tikki with his bare hands, sprinkled raw onions and scoops of coriander and tamarind chutney on top. He added sev (deep-fried potato noodles), chaat masala and then lemon juice. All the while my hand remained in an outstretched position wanting the simple aloo tikki patty. What I got instead was a sour-sweet-spicy-tangy-hot-cold-crunchy-soft mish mash of deliciousness. The lesson I learnt: In India, you never quite get what you expect, but what you do get will never disappoint you!
Chai - Did you really think we could have a post on street food in India without giving mention to chai? Chai vendors are brilliant at business and have the knack of setting up their stalls in places where your cravings for chai just happen to materialise - which is basically anywhere and everywhere. Coming out of the temple? Have some chai to go with the prasad (a devotional offering made to God and usually sweet). Leaving college? A chai-stall has been set up in the car park so you can re-energise before the ride home. Climbing the Himalayas? Of course you will need to stop for a chai break to warm your cold soul! Depending on the region you are in, your chai can have spices (cinnamon and cardamom), be made with malai (cream), or have extra chinni (sugar). These are just a few of the variations you may encounter as your drink away through cups and cups of this glorious drink. Have a read of our post dedicated to the beverage which is India’s lifeblood here. Better yet, impress your family and friends by becoming a chai-wallah or chai walli (tea-maker) with our Chai Latte spice blend.
Andha Paratha - This might seem like a pretty standard breakfast you could whip up at home but hold up, it is the amount of oil and the concoction of spicy sauces which make this street food best consumed a little less often than the daily breakfast. Put simply, this is an egg wrap - a fried egg cooked inside a flatbread called paratha. However, on the street, the egg is sometimes fried with onions and almost always mixed with sweet and spicy chutneys and sauces (I was too afraid to ask what was inside them). It is enjoyed hot on the spot and after eating it, I guarantee you will feel that warm and fuzzy feeling in your belly.
- Kulfi - After all that spicy and hot street food, you will definitely need something to cool down your tongue and sweeten your tastebuds. Street kulfi is the perfect treat for that. Kulfi is Indian ice cream and is made by simmering full-cream milk until it starts to get slightly nutty and thick. The kulfi vendors have these wheely top load fridges, which they open to reveal metal holes the size of a 50 cent coin filled with the kulfi which they pull out and serve to you. There are different varieties of kulfi, and my favourite is the original milky one. You can enjoy flavours like badam (almond), kesar (saffron), malai (cream) and pista (pistachio), We’ve got our own easy recipe you can try here and it involves ingredients you will easily find at your local grocery store. Kulfi, when made well, is the perfect balance between the textures ‘icy’ and ‘creamy’ and is a front-runner when it comes to the world’s best ice creams (bring on the Italians and their gelatos!).
I could probably write a book on the numerous street foods available across India, but that would be another task in itself. My advice to you is to come over and experience the variety, wonder and delight that the street food will offer your tastebuds. For those of you who have tasted Indian Street Food, I would love to hear what you rate as your favourite. Comment below and let us know!
By Conchita A. de Souza