The only thing more ubiquitous than photographable monuments, colourful spices, and busy roads in India is the platter of street food on offer at every bylane of most major cities. From the uber-modern Mumbai to old-school Lucknow, here’s what’s on the menu if you’re keen on a quick bite. By Eshita Srinivas
Call it a product of cultural diversity or a collective passion for all things gastronomical – India’s street food scene is innovative, eclectic, and downright delicious. Better yet, there’s a culinary iteration for every season and occasion. For instance, monsoons call for piping-hot pakodas, Irani chai, and momos. Summers, meanwhile, are all about the kulfi and lassi.
Add to this, quirky creations like Mumbai’s cheese chakli pav and classics like pani puri (or puchka) and you’re bound to be spoilt for choice. Not to mention, tucking into a plate of local fare continues to be one of the best ways to truly get a taste (pun intended) of a city’s social and historical fabric. Here’s a quick look at a few must-visit cities for a bite.
Best cities in India to visit for a taste of delicious street food
The capital is near synonymous with its street food culture. In fact, walk down the streets of old Delhi and you’re bound to see plates full of indulgent jalebis with rabri, flavourful samosas, velvety kulfis, and the most lip-smacking kebabs and parathas. Besides, there’s also classics like gol gappas, dahi bhalle, and kachori chaat. Best part? This barely scratches the surface of what the city has to offer. Pop by Chandni Chowk, Delhi Haat, and Connaught Place to find vendors. Some popular spots include Giani’s, Lotan Ke Chole Kulche, and Kake Di Hatti.
A vegetarian haven – street food in Mumbai is marked by its pav bhajis, vada pav, bhej chat, misal pav, bhel puri, sev puri, ragda pattice, kanda batata poha, kanda bhaji, sabudana vada, and kanda bhaji. Not to mention, the classic, comforting Bombay sandwich. Mumbai’s diverse culture has also paved the way for quirky bites like cheese chakli pav, green pav bhaji, cheese burst vada pav, and more. Head to Chowpatty, Dadar, Crawford Market, Fort, CST, or Mohammed Ali Road to find vendors. Some of the more popular spots to hit up include Raju Sandwiches, Nitin Vada Pav, and Ram and Shyam.
Perhaps one of the most popular street food destinations in India – Kolkata’s menu offers affordable and lip-smacking kathi rolls, steamed momos, jumbo rolls, fish fry, puchkas, cutlets, and more. The city’s also a paradise for people with a sweet tooth such as, rasgullas, mishti doi, and sandesh on offer – amongst others. Head to Terreti Bazar for Chinese fare like lap cheong, noodle soup, baozi buns, deep fried dumplings, fish balls, congee, and more. Princep Ghat has plenty to offer as well. Other popular spots include Kusum Roll’s, Bawarchi, and Anandi Cabin.
Known for its old-world Awadhi cuisine, Lucknow’s street food is as indulgent as they come. We’re talking tundey kebabs, galouti kebabs, kormas, kulcha-nihari, katori chaat, parathas, chole bhature, shawarma, aloo tikki with chole, poori kachori, and more. The bucket chaat, with mashed potatoes, pomegranate, yoghurt, and a range of chutneys is a must-try. As is the malai makhan – the perfect creamy sweet treat to round out a meal. Head to the Hazratganj region or Chowk for the best vendors.
Besides historically and culturally significant spots like the Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh, and Wagah Border as well as its abundance of green spaces – Amritsar is known for its street fare. The most popular of this is chole kulche – particularly stuffed kulchas and lassi. That aside, the chicken tikkas, sarson ka saag, and chaaps are popular as well. Sweet tooths, don’t miss out on the city’s jalebis, pinni, besan ladoos, and gajar ka halwa. Kanha Sweets, Brothers’ Dhaba, and Kulcha Land are popular spots for a bite.
Like Lucknow, the street food in Hyderabad is steeped in its history and marked by its vintage restaurants. On the menu are indulgent desserts, soul-satisfying snacks, and the most traditional local fare. This includes Irani chai, bun malai, bun maska, Osmania biscuits, bheja fry, falooda, shawarma, ragda, mirchi bajji, kulfi, square naan, kebabs, and lukhmi. Desserts are popular as well, including jouzi halwa, double ka meetha, badam ki jali, and phirni. Head to old city for Irani fare. Ram ki bandi serves up golden dosas and idlis while Nimrah cafe has decadent chai. Gokul chat, meanwhile, comes highly recommended by most locals.
Putting Central India on the street food map – any Indore itinerary is incomplete without a bite of the city’s most popular local fare. Front and centre is the beloved breakfast combination – poha and jalebi. The latter is often dunked in full-fat milk like a cookie, while the former features crunchy snacks. Besides this, must-try delicacies include khopra patties, bhutte ki khees, shikanji, lal balti ki kachori, dahi bade, garadu, sabudana khichadi, samosa, paratha, and bhajiya. Head to Sarafa Bazaar and Chappan Dukan for the best spots.
Stunning forests, cascading waterfalls, mysterious caves, and picturesque cherry blossom trees aside – Shillong’s street food culture shouldn’t be missed out on. This includes options like momos, jalebis, chowmein, pineapples, and smoked meats. The tungrymbai with fermented soybeans, jadoh with pork meat, pukhlein featuring fermented rice, and chilly pork come highly recommended. You’ll find plenty of vendors in the centrally-located Police Bazaar area.
Which of these spots are you adding to your winter culinary itinerary?
All images: Courtesy Shutterstock
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Answer: A few options like corn on the cob and sweet potato chaat might be healthy. However for the most part, street food is not the healthiest option you could go for.
Answer: Depending on where you decide to eat, prices can vary. However, of the more popular spots, Kolkata is believed to have the most affordable street food.
Answer: Street food is synonymous with affordability but certain establishments like Farzi Cafe and Masala Kraft serve expensive renditions. The vada pav at HL vada pav is also believed to be expensive - at Rs 150.
Answer: During the monsoons, make sure to stick to foods that are deep fried - ideally right as you order them. This kills all bacteria that could potentially make you sick.
Answer: Corn on the cob might be the healthiest street snack in India. However, momos, salads, and juices are good bets as well.
Answer: In Indore, poha - sold across street stalls - is eaten for breakfast. That said, the nutrition on your plate can vary.