Street Food is the food that you get only on the streets. No matter how good a cook or a chef you are, it is nearly impossible to recreate the taste that you get in the street. Is it the ambiance that adds to the taste? Maybe. Is it the informal relationship that people share with the vendor, or the repeated taste – no one knows. Honestly, no one cares, as long as they get their favorite food on the streets.
Indian street food is as diverse as the rest of the nation is. There are those that you get across the country, but every region brings its own nuance. Every village, town, and the city has some specialty that you get only in that place and nowhere else. There are cult shops that have a huge and loyal fan following. They are a part of the intangible heritage of the city. Can your trip to Lucknow be complete without Tokri Chat or to Mumbai without Vada Pao?
Millions of varieties of street food are consumed on Indian streets every day. Come with us to get a glimpse of them.
Statutory Warning – Mouth Watering Ahead 🙂
Popular Indian Street Foods
Gol Gappa or Pani Puri
Undoubtedly Gol Gappe or Pani Puri tops the list of popular Indian Street Foods. About 2-inch size puri or Golgappa as I know it, stuffed with spiced potatoes, grams, and filled with spiced ‘chatpata’ water to the brim. You have to open your mouth wide open to push it in, where it breaks the moment you close your mouth releasing an extravaganza of flavors in your mouth. It is a blast on the senses. It can bring tears to your eyes, a smile on your face, and greed in your heart – for you can never have enough of them.
Your stomach may be full but your tongue is always looking for more of it.
In North India, we call them Gol Gappe, in West India, they are Pani Puri, in East India – Puchke, in central parts – Pani Batashe, Batashe, and Gupchup.
Technically, each of them is different like Gol Gappe always has cold water in it, while Pani Puri has hot, Puchkas have no filling, just water. The common thing is the ultimate tangy taste that it leaves on your tongue.
No matter where you travel in India, Gol Gappe is a must-have street food of India.
Triangular Samosa with its round cousin Kachori is the hot favorites in North India when it comes to evening snacks. In some parts like Rajasthan and UP, people start their day with them. During my growing up years, there was nothing like having a piping hot Samosa with a hot cup of tea. In college canteens, all we used to get was samosa and chai and nothing has ever come closer to its taste, ever.
Samosa is pretty universal in India, except Goa where you get Mushroom Samosa.
Kachori comes in many flavors – Daal Kachori, Pyaz, or Onion Kachori, Pitthi Kachori.
Pro Tip – Reach the shop when Samosa and Kachori are just being fried. Have them straight out of the Pan for the best taste.
Vada Pav, Pav Bhaji & Bun Maska
Pav or Pao literally means one-fourth of the bread. It is something that came in vogue when the mill workers of Mumbai had short breaks and they quickly had a Pav with Tea. Same Pav was served with Bhaji or vegetable curry in the mill canteens. Soon, city restaurants were serving it along with the street vendors.
Irani Cafes of the city started serving Pav with butter that still goes by the name – Bun Maska.
In the 1970s, Vada Pav came as a sandwich with spiced potato stuffed between layers of Pao somewhere near Dadar station. It is now the favorite go-to snack in the city on move. Pick one and keep moving.
Of the three, I like Pav Bhaji the most, but try all of them and take your pick. All these are a must-have in Mumbai and in most of Maharashtra.
Misal Pao is another variant of Pao based street food in India, where the masala has lentils that are the prime ingredient.
Pakoda or Bhajji
Take any vegetable, soak in a paste of chickpea flour or besan as we call it, deep fry it and you have your Pakoda or Bhajji. Savor with tomato ketchup or chutney of your choice – mint or tamarind being the most popular. In south India, you even get them with ubiquitous coconut chutney.
Most popular Pakodas are made with Onion, across India. The flavors different a bit, sometimes other flours like Rice flour are added to besan, but more or less the recipe and taste remain similar. Potatoes with their universal presence make the second most popular ingredient for Pakodas, followed by Cauliflower.
Chilli Bhajji is very popular across South India, made with large green chili that is not so hot to eat.
Bread Pakodas being very filling are popular in student areas across India.
Paneer Pakodas are popular in fancier places but you can make them with just about any vegetables including leafy ones.
Flat and round potato patties, shallow fried in front of you, and then tempered with spices to your liking is something you don’t want to miss in Indian street foods.
Ask the vendor to add a bit of curd, your favorite chutney, your level of spices. Eat it hot and you have a blessing in your mouth.
Aaloo Bonda is a poor cousin of Aloo Tikki. It is basically boiled spiced potato deep fried with a thin layer of batter around it. People who like it have it with chutney or green chilly. I rather prefer the Aloo Tikki.
Papdi Chat/Shev Puri/Masala Puri
Papdi is the flat version of Gol Gappa. I suspect that the ones that do not swell well are used as Papdi. It adds the ultimate crunch to any dish. Now you can have different Chaats made out of this Papdi. You can put them with curd – you have Papdi chaat, put them with mashed peas and you have Masala puri, put them with some Shev thrown in and you have Shev Puri. Honestly, you can mix and match whatever you like and you have your version of this chaat.
Bhel Puri/Jhal Muri
Use the puffed rice as the main ingredient, add the tangy taste of your favorite chutneys, add the crispy Papdi from the previous recipe, and add whatever is there on the cart with your own proportions. I like it dry but some like it soaked in spicy chutneys. Used to be a popular snack in Mumbai, but now you get it just about anywhere in India.
In Bengal, you get it with a dash of mango pickle and mustard oil, giving it a typically Bengali flavor.
The best time to eat a steaming hot Idli is on an early morning walk in the small town of Karnataka. You will get it on small carts, cycles, vans, on the roadside, when the world is still to wake up. Post that, you can have Idli, Dosas, or my favorite Medu Wadas in any of the Udupi restaurants that are ubiquitous across India but far more easily available in the south.
You get variations of Dosa like – Set Dosa which is a thicker and smaller dosa, Neer Dosa – a thin watery version of Dosa, Moong Daal Dosa, Rava Dosa. Hyderabad even has an MLA Dosa. You can play with the filling, like in Mumbai you get Chinese Dosa with noodles in it, but I prefer to stick to the classic potato filling.
Idli is pretty universal. Rava Idli is a popular variant. However, do try Guntur Idli that is soaked in ghee or the multi-grain Kanchipuram Idli.
The Medu Wada is also best in its classic form, you do get variants of it in the form of Mysore Wada, Daal Wada, and Mangalore Bhajji.
Jalebi is one of the few sweet snacks that are consumed just like savories in many parts of north and central India. It is full of sugar – both inside and outside. At places it is soft and full of sugar syrup, at places, it is crisp with just a hint of sugar. Sometimes they add paneer to create Mawa Jalebi. Its bright orange color is inviting to say the least. I like the crisp brown ones that come with a crunch in the mouth.
Imarti is like Jalebi but made with Urad Dal or Bengal Gram instead of Maida. This is my most favorite sweet, something that I might ask as my last wish if I get the option.
Peanuts are another pan Indian street food. You get them roasted in north India and boiled in Southern parts. You get them with a bit of salt in eastern parts and with onion and tomato in fancier places. Not to forget that peanuts also get added to many other snacks as ingredients.
Dana – This is a roasted multi-grain snack that you get in Eastern UP. You can’t get a healthier snack than this. The mix of grains that goes in your serving along with the seasoning is absolutely customized for you. The best place to eat is on the ghats of Ganga in Varanasi.
Chana – the humble gram roasted and seasoned is what reminds me of train journeys in my childhood when we used to wait for the vendor to come. Flattered spice chana is called Chana Jor Garam and who can ever resist it.
Regional Street Food in India
Central India, especially MP loves to snack on Poha, usually paired with Jalebi. On a road trip in central India, you literally get to live on Poha and it comes dirt cheap. For Rs 5/- you can have a stomach full of Poha, you have to eat it on a piece of newspaper though.
It is famously paired with Jalebi in many parts of India for breakfast.
Dhokla used to be a Gujarati snack when we were growing up. We could eat it at our Gujarati friend’s homes or when we visited Gujarat. Now it is available everywhere and is a favorite snack of those who do not want to eat deep-fried ones we met above. It is made by steaming the lentil paste, with flavoring added later on.
Quintessential Maharashtrian Upwaas or fasting food is delicious. The best place to eat is next to the big waterfall in Amboli Ghats.
Made In India Chinese Street Food in India
Manchurian – All south Indians think, Manchurian is a North Indian snack, while North Indians only know of it as something that is served at Chinese restaurants. Chinese may well not identify the dish if it is served to them. In my mental map of ‘Street food in India’ – this would be a Karnataka dish that leaves an orange color on your tongue. It is usually made with cabbage but these days you get many versions of it.
Momos – These are the new-age street food rage of India. When I traveled to North East India, I expected to see them everywhere. I realized that they were found more on streets of Delhi than in the North East. These steamed dumplings are favorite with the younger generation, I prefer my deep-fried crunch.
Noodles – Noodles in all their forms and shapes can be found on the streets of India. Flavored and spiced to your taste, you can have them as you like them.
Seasonal Street Food in India
Bhutta / Corn
Bhutta or Chhali as we call it in Punjab is the humble cobbed corn. It is a seasonal snack in India, usually comes during monsoons. So, we all have memories of sitting by a waterfall or driving in the drizzle with a Bhutta in our hands.
The most popular form is freshly roasted Bhutta, with a dash of lemon, salt, and red chili powder. In South India, it also comes in a boiled form.
Pop-corn is the all-time snack that is made by popping the corn. Traditionally, in India, this was done in warm sand or salt, without adding any kind of oil. These days people pop them using electrical devices or in pans with dollops of butter. The flavor is your choice.
Roasted Sweet Potato
Roasted sweet potatoes are a delight to eat. Sprinkle a bit of lime and chat masala and you are pampering your senses.
Colonial Food in India
Sandwich – Grilled, Cheese, Chutney: they come in various forms. Take two slices of bread, sandwich something in between, have it just like that, or get it grilled. Anytime snack and something that you get at any hour in a hotel.
Finger Chips – Fried potato fingers, something no one can refuse.
Best places for street food in India
- Sarafa or Chhappan in Indore
- Manek Chowk in Ahmedabad
- Chowk or Hazaratganj in Lucknow
- Night Market near Law College in Bangalore
- Chandni Chowk and Bengali Market in Delhi
- Walled City in Jaipur
- Khau Gali in Mumbai