“Bahut swadisht” (or "that's delicious") is one of few Hindi phrases I memorized while traveling in India -- and for good reason. From sweet confections to spicy, sinus-cleansing snacks, every street corner was serving up something delicious and praise-worthy. In fact, the roadside stalls, as with many other destinations, showcased the heart and soul of the country’s culinary scene even more than its five-star restaurants. After all, whether it’s a 2 a.m. comfort food craving or mid-afternoon pick-me-up to power through sight-seeing, indulging in street fare is a surefire way to get a taste of the local culture. So to help you feel confident in your order during your next jaunt to India, we drafted a crib sheet of some of the country’s most delicious sidewalk offerings.
Tossed with an assortment of veggies, puffed rice, potatoes, sev, and tamarind chutney, bhel puri puts all other run-of-the-mill salads to shame. And although you can order the colorful street snack around the country, diehard fans swear by the paper cone variation found on Juhu and Chowpatty beaches in Mumbai. Either way, brace yourself for a kaleidoscope of flavors (sweet, spicy, sour) and textures (cold, crunchy, sticky) upon the first bite.
Here’s what you need to know about this Mumbai street staple: Pav equals bread and vada is a palm-sized potato patty that’s cobbled together with garlic, green chilies, coriander, ginger, and chickpea flour batter before hitting the fryer. Together, they make a beautiful burger-like union that’s enjoyed by everyone, from students to suited professionals. Anthony Bourdain even called the fiery grab-and-go snack the best thing he ate during a trip across India. How’s that for more affirmation?
Pav bhaji is to Mumbai what pizza and hot dogs are to New York City and shawarma is to Tel Aviv. Translation: the tangy chaat variety can be devoured pretty much any time of day — lunch, dinner, linner, for late-night munchies, you name it. The bhaji, a masterful mash-up of potatoes, peas, tomatoes, onions, and fragrant spices, is served alongside pav, bread that’s heated on a pan and cloaked in butter. And as amusing as it watching the food be prepared (the whole thing is mesmerizingly mashed and mixed over a gigantic cast-iron skillet), housing it down brings even more pleasure. Once it’s served, squeeze some lemon atop the whole shebang and go for the dip-and-scoop method.
For the carnivores out there, there’s kheema pav. The main attraction here is a heaping helping of minced meat that’s cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes, chilies, and other spices. Similar to pav bhaji, this snack is served alongside accoutrements like lemon, onions, pickle, and of course, bread to mop it all up.
These savory, on-the-go morsels are as entertaining to eat as they are tasty. First, poke a hole in the deep-fried orb (puri) with your thumb. Pack the sphere with potatoes, chickpeas, onions, and chutney, then dunk it in a sour tamarind-laced water blend (pani). Pop the whole thing in your mouth and let the burst of flavors work their magic on your taste buds. Just a heads up: while Mumbai calls it pani puri, Delhi dubs it gol gappa and Kolkata refers to it as phuchka. But if it were up to us, we’d just use the moniker: pure magic.
This is unlike any other corn-on-the-cob you’ve ever had. Roasted over hot coals, then massaged with lime, salt, and chili powder, the summertime staple makes for an aromatic, satisfying, and not to mention, healthy snack between crossing off the bucket list attractions.
When the temps hit scorching degrees, ice gola will come to your rescue. Much like your childhood snow cone dreams, this brain freeze-inducing goodie consists of shaved ice doused in syrup. Flavors range from mango and orange to strawberry, lime, and kala khata, a sweet and sour concoction that’s made from a blackberry-like fruit.
And speaking of beating the heat, kulfi — a denser, creamier version of ice cream — is another way to find your chill. It comes in a variety of flavors too, but we suggest ordering the pista, a cardamom and pistachio-packed variety.
When it comes to street food in India, the iconic samosa is king. Interestingly enough, however, the deep-fried triangular pockets hail from Central Asia and arrived in India only by way of trade routes. Inside the crisp cocoon, you’ll find steaming, cumin-flecked potatoes (or aloo as the locals call it) and peas (or mattar). Tip: off-set the savory components with a cup of sweet masala chai.
Think funnel cake, but swap the powdered sugar with a healthy dose of syrup instead. Served hot or cold, these pretzel-shaped treats are deep-fried in maida flour (a type of wheat flour), then soaked in sugar syrup to achieve a crystallized exterior. Depending on the maker, a hint of rose water is sometimes added as well. Just thank the Persian-speaking invaders, who brought the dish to India during Medieval times.
In simplest terms, aloo tikki is a potato croquette. The flavors packed inside this type of chaat, however, are anything but simple. Brimming with spices and served with a tasty tamarind chutney and yogurt, it’s no wonder the crispy fried fritters gained popularity in north India. But if you find yourself in Mumbai instead, don’t worry. Order ragda pattice, a similar variation that will equally satisfy.
A popular morning snack, chole bhature is a true breakfast of champions. First introduced in Delhi, this Punjabi dish can (thankfully) be found in other parts of the country today. To find it, just look for the group of locals that are crowded around a stall and scarfing down a combination of spicy chickpeas and deep-fried bread.
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