India is a land of diverse cultures and traditions and its many states have their own unique cuisines. Food is the soul of India’s daily life and you will find a selection that ranges from rich flavours to street food. Here is a look at the top five region-specific street food to try while in India.
In every nook and corner of the Northern states of India, you will find a cart selling an assortment of chaats. Start out with a binge on paani-puris, which are essentially crispy roundels of hollow dough, filled with a mixture of potatoes and spices, topped with sweet mint chutney and dipped into tangy tamarind water. Then, move on to the many varieties of chaats which include aloo (potato), papri (thin wafers) and samosa. All are garnished with yogurt, chickpeas gravy, red chilli, pepper, black salt, coriander, dried mango powder and finally a sprinkling of sweet and sour tamarind paste. Enough to get your taste buds tingling.
If you are concerned about the hygiene of these carts, these quick bites are also available in sit-in sweet shops, although the experience and flavour of it all will have a huge difference from the ones served by road side vendors.
The Eastern states of India love their muri (puffed rice) and if you happen to be in Kolkata, you should definitely dig into jhaal-muri, literally meaning spicy puffed rice. This snack is traditionally served by vendors in large paper cones, where the dry puffed rice is tossed with shredded raw onions, sliced green chillies and sev – noodle like thin bits of deep fried chickpea flour paste – sprinkled with salt, pepper and a dash of mustard oil and thick tamarind paste.
The best way to savour this is with fritters and you should always eat this like they do in India, with hands. Yes, it’s messy, but it also tastes good.
The Southern states are steeped in a culture of rich dance forms and music and are a direct contrast to the simplest street food of India – bhajjis - chunks of vegetables dipped in a batter of gram flour and deep fried. Although vegetables like potatoes and cauliflower are widely used, the most scintillating variety is that of green peppers. This snack of entire pods of pepper, deep fried with a coating of spices laden batter, is served with tangy mint chutney and can be savoured at almost any Udupi, Shanti Sagar or Sarvana Bhavan across South India.
If hot is not your flavour, taste the other lesser tear jerking snacks of Bonda, made with potatoes, or Vadai, a mild and crispy concoction of lentils and spices.
Our very own alternative to burgers is the vada pav. If you have ever visited Mumbai, it would have been hard to miss out on this street food. This is essentially a dumpling of spicy mashed potatoes covered in gram flour paste, deep fried and served in a bed of pav (a much smaller version of burger buns). The pav is slit open half way through to make place for the dumpling and served with a helping of a fresh pod of green chilli, a chutney made with garlic, mint and tamarind and a pinch or two of dried red chilli powder.
This snack is so easy to dish out that it is sometimes even served as a main course at breakfast, lunch and dinner tables. This on-the-go street food is, maybe the least messy and most filling street food of India.
Although not confined to the kitchens of central India, pakodas or fritters, are a quintessential Indian snack time food. Best accompanied with a steaming cup of masala chai, these are a favourite of every Indian, especially during the monsoon seasons. Although, very similar to bhajjis in preparation, the ingredients used for pakodas are of a far wider variety. With just two to three essential ingredients, pakodas can be cooked up in a jiffy. The variations include cottage cheese, onion rings, eggplant slices, potato mash, cauliflower, boiled spinach and tomatoes among many other. The essence of this street food is that just about everything that you can get creative with, can be used as the core ingredient to whip up with gram flour batter and deep fried. Served with a helping of spicy green mint and yogurt chutney, this is one street food that you will never tire of.
So, next time you are on the roads in India, ditch the usual tikka masalas, dosas and biryanis and try out some of these street foods, straight from the heart of India.