Street foods have certain unique delectable flavors that sometimes no luxury restaurant can replicate them. The ingredients and the dishes themselves define the taste of the local region. This Tastessence article enlists the popular street foods from top Indian cities.
One of the popular street joints in Shimla, India, called ‘Kewal ka Dhaba‘ was apparently gifted to its owners by the last Viceroy of British India, Lord Mountbatten. According to them, Lord Mountbatten was so impressed with the delicious butter bun and tea served at this shack, that he gifted the owner a bigger, permanent place for it.
India is a multicultural land with different traditions, customs, languages, and food. Every state, in fact, every city has different foods and cuisines to offer. Many of the dishes here have their origins in the various foreign influences (Mughal, British, Portuguese) on the land, while some even predate them, while others have been developed keeping in mind local preferences.
Street food in India is particularly famous, and tourists can spend hours exploring the various joints right across its numerous towns and cities (which are innumerable, so to say). These joints offer tasty food at very reasonable prices, which is one of the reasons these dishes are so popular. Listed below are some of the famous street foods of India according to their location.
Agra is famous for the exquisite and pristine Taj Mahal, but it is equally famous for its aromatic street food, especially the paratha―a roasted flat bread, made with whole wheat dough and tasty stuffing, like potato, fenugreek, radish, onion, cabbage, etc. Other spices and herbs are added to the stuffing as well, and it is roasted evenly on a hot pan. Served with a variety of pickles, butter, and raita (a variation of salad), it is one of the most famous street foods of Agra, for breakfast, lunch, tea time, or dinner. The chaotic, busy streets of this city are ablaze with other dishes, kachori-jalebi, lassi, chaat, etc., as well.
Ahmedabad is largest city in the western Indian state of Gujarat, colloquially known as the land of food! Gujjus, as the people of this state are affectionately called, are arguably the most consummate foodies in the world. Known for its rich and diverse culture, Ahmedabad ranks supreme in street food as well. One of the popular Gujarati snacks is the khaman dhokla. It is a type of soft and spongy cake, made from a batter of gram flour and spices that is steamed. A slightly tangy, slightly sweet, fluffy savory dish, it is the signature snack that defines the street food of Gujarat.
Another very famous street food that has gained fame throughout the country is dabeli. It is very much like a humble version of a sandwich, only, it’s much tastier! The stuffing is made with mashed and fried veggies, mixed with spices, and garnished with pomegranate, peanuts, coriander, etc. This is stuffed between two pieces of the tough local bread, called pav, and is roasted on a shallow pan and served. It has become so famous that almost all the Indian cities have joints serving variations of the humble dabeli.
Well-known for the beautiful and sacred Golden Temple, Amritsar is a treat for those who are fond of North-Indian cuisine. The countryside is dotted with small shacks, called dhabas that serve delicious food, while the city streets are filled with stalls serving lip-smacking snacks. The laccha paratha is a particularly famous snack here. A variation of the regular paratha, a laccha paratha is slightly tricky to prepare. The dough is rolled out into thick strips, and every strip is combined with the other and rolled out evenly. The resultant is a huge, thick, multi-layered paratha. Note that there is no stuffing.
Another classic street food of Amritsar if the dal makhani. The dal is an Indian split pulse curry, mostly eaten with rotis or rice, with numerous variations. Dal makhani is actually a combination of rajma (red kidney beans) and urad dal (black lentils). Boiled and sauteed with tomatoes and chillies, the main feature that makes this dish unique is the butter. The dal is garnished with creamy soft butter swirls and served with parathas and onion slices, a wholesome meal by itself.
Amritsar has a sizable population of non-vegetarians, and tandoori chicken is one of the most famous street foods here. Thick chunks of chicken are marinated in a yogurt-spice mixture, and roasted in a hot tandoor, a cylindrical clay oven. The final dish is exquisite brown, slightly charred pieces of succulent chicken, served with onion and bell pepper rings and lemon slices that emanate the most delicious aroma ever! Yum…
While Bengaluru is known for a variety of dishes, the akki roti is a popular street snack. It is a very simple roti (common Indian flat bread) made from rice flour instead of wheat flour. The rotis are thin and delicate, and can be served with a simple pickle or salad. It is a common practice to include grated coconut, onions, and green chillies to make the dish appetizing.
The state of Orissa is more famous for its natural beauty, but Oriya cuisine is no less famous by any means. Dahibara or dahi bara is a variation of the dahi vada served widely in North India. It consists of yogurt over baras. The baras are made by deep-frying a batter of ground split black gram. Thick, creamy yogurt is poured over the baras. The mixture is garnished with sweet tamarind chutney (a kind of dip), chili powder, and fresh coriander.
It would be a shame not to mention ghugni while talking about the street foods of Bhubaneshwar. A common and famous dish all over eastern India,ghugni is basically a spicy peas curry served with Indian flat bread. Then again, the peas used, the curry consistency, and the bread served alongside, vary as per the location. In Bhubaneshwar, the ghugni is generally made with yellow peas, and is a thick, mushy curry. It is served separately, as a snack by itself, or may be served with baras.
Located in the state of Rajasthan, Bikaner has an array of street foods, one of the most popular ones being, the kachori. Here is where you will find the ideal kachori―hollow on the inside, and crisp and flaky on the outside. The dough is made with plain flour, while the filling includes sauteed split gram with spices. The mixture is encased in the rolled out dough and deep-fried, and is served with delicious sweet and sour chutneys.
Known for its enticingly steamed dishes, this city has some of the best street food joints in the country. Their popularity can be gauged by the fact that these foods are fairly easily available in other parts of the country as well, that have street joints serving idli-dosas for breakfast, as a healthy alternative. The dosa is a type of Indian pancake, made with rice and lentil batter, while idli is a steamed version of the same. The masala dosa is one of many hundreds of dosa variants; it is nothing but dosa with a spicy stuffing. The batter is spread evenly on the pan, and after a few minutes, a mushy potato mixture is added in the center. The dosa is then folded from all sides and is serve with the local sambar, a lentil-vegetable-tamarind stew, and thick coconut or tomato chutney.
Idli is a round, steamed rice cake, made with a similar batter. The dosa and idli batters vary slightly in consistency and ingredients used. The batter is poured into steamer plates and allowed to steam for about 15 minutes. The result is fresh, soft, fluffy idlis ! Semolina flour is often added to make them crispy. They are served with sambar and chutney as well.
While idli is and dosas are commonly served as breakfast, street joints dish up mouthwatering snack variants, like fried idli, stuffed idli, Szechuan noodle dosa, and dosa sandwich.
Momos have their origins in China, and are common in Tibet and Nepal. The culture has been carried over to North-eastern India; to the streets of Sikkim, Ladakh, and Darjeeling, consequently, the rest of the country followed suit, preparing their own localized versions. They are stuffed and steamed dumplings. Refined flour dough is rolled and filled with the desired mixture, it is then pinched and folded to obtain a miniature, dome-like structure, and then steamed.
Talking about street food and not mentioning Delhi is akin to talking about the Louvre and not mentioning the Mona Lisa. The capital of India, New Delhi or rather the old city of Delhi has some of the most delectable street food joints in the country. There is possibly no place in the old city where you wouldn’t find a food stall to satisfy your taste buds.
Chole bhature is one of the signature dishes of the city. Chole is a thick chickpea curry, and a bhatura is a kind of deep-fried flat bread. It is made with plain wheat flour, rolled out onto a flat surface, and deep-fried in oil. The combination of the thick, spicy curry and the chewy, spongy bhature is so tantalizing, you’ll find yourself salivating for more. The dish is normally served with sliced raw onion rings and cut lemon pieces.
It is one of the most delicious snacks in the country. It is a fried pastry that has its roots in Central Asia, and has taken on innumerable variants. It is normally triangular in shape, and is made with plain flour dough, stuffed with a mixture of potatoes or cabbage or meat, and then deep-fried.
Chaat – Papdi Chaat
How can we not include chaat in the list of street foods? The word chaat is almost synonymous with Indian street food or snacks. Known to have its origins in the Northern part of the country, chaat is not just one particular dish, it encompasses all the savory snacks possible. It popularly includes items, like the papdi chaat, sev puri, dahi puri, samosa chaat, bhel puri, and so on and on. These items more or less have the same method of preparation, give or take a few ingredients. The papdi chaat, for instance, consists of a mashed potato mixture, spread on top of a papdi (deep-fried, puffed, crunchy snack, made with refined flour), topped with onions, coriander, sev (dried salty yellow flakes), mint chutney, tamarind chutney, roasted cumin powder, dried mango powder, rock salt, chili powder, etc. There are virtually countless variations in chaat.
Historically called ‘The City of Pearls’, Hyderabad is the land of the Nizams, and their cultural influence is artistically exhibited in the traditions and customs of this city. Speaking of cuisine, Hyderabad is famous for its biryani, the traditional Mughal rice dish, and a variety of spicy, rich, tempting chicken and meat gravies.
Speaking of street food, Hyderabad is famous for its crisp fritters, called pakoras or bhajjis. Every possible vegetable is sliced or chopped, coated with a thick gram flour batter, and deep-fried. While all kinds of vegetable pakoras are famous, the mirchi pakoras (chili fritters) are particularly popular, possibly due to the hot, spicy flavor. Pakoras are popular in the rest of the country as well.
Kababs are the result of the influence of the Mughal cuisine, though they have their origins in Central Asia. They are made from all kinds of meat; the meat pieces are marinated for a while, and then roasted on skewers until the meat becomes tender and juicy. They are generally served with mint chutney.
Located in Madhya Pradesh, Indore is a foodie’s paradise, where the poha-jalebi stands out as a viable, unique breakfast option, served by every street cart during the morning rush hours. Poha is made with beaten rice, and seasoned with cumin seeds, turmeric, and onions. To combat the slightly moderate flavor, it is served with jalebi, a popular Indian sweetmeat that spiral in shape. It is made by deep-frying circular shapes of wheat flour dough, and then soaked in a sugar syrup. Tangy poha with hot and sweet, syrupy jalebi makes for an irresistible combination.
Representing the culture of the entire state of Rajasthan, Jaipur offers many traditional dishes as street food. Rajasthan is an arid state, hence, the dishes here use an abundance of yogurt and gram flour. One of the popular street foods is dal-baati-churma; it consists of three separately cooked food items served as a single dish. Dal is a tempered lentil broth; it is made from bengal gram, green gram, and black gram. Baati is the traditional Rajasthani bread. It is made by combining whole wheat flour, gram flour, and semolina flour with milk and ghee (clarified butter), the dough is shaped into balls, boiled, and then grilled to perfection. Churma is a sweet accompaniment, made with crushed coarse wheat, mixed with ghee and sugar, sometimes, even dry fruits. It is one of the most popular and delicious street foods in Jaipur.
Jammu is one of those rare places that is associated extensively with scenic beauty, and lesser for street food. However, the city serves most of snacks served in other parts of the country, though an authentic street food served here would be the kalari kulcha. The kalari is a type of dense local cheese, native to Jammu and Kashmir. The cheese is made from cow’s milk, and the fat is released while roasting it on a hot pan. After keeping it aside for a while, it is browned over and over until it acquires a gooey, silky, smooth, soft texture. A kulcha is a kind of baked flour bread, mixed with herbs. A kalari kulcha is made by melting the kalari cheese with a regular kulcha, such that the resulting preparation seems like a doughy, chewy, delicious thin crust pizza with mozzarella cheese. It may be served just like that, or with yogurt and a curry.
Puchka is one of the most savory street foods in Kolkata, and is also called gol gappa, pani puri, batasha, gup chup, etc., in the other parts of the country, it. A crisp hollow puri is filled with chickpeas or mashed potatoes, and then filled with sweet and sour water. The taste is so incredibly flavorful and heavenly!
Another popular street snack in Kolkata is the kathi rolls. Quite similar to the wraps available in most fast food restaurants, they consist of spicy vegetables or eggs wrapped in a flour dough bread. Kathi rolls make for an all-time snack, and the chewy maida dough and incredibly wonderful fillings are absolutely titillating.
The capital of Uttar Pradesh and historically the capital of Awadh, Lucknow is the city of Nawabs, and their cuisine has distinctive and authentic Nawabi and Awadhi flavors―rich with clarified butter and spices. The tantalizing biryanis and breads are a staple of the city’s main course, while the street food of Lucknow consists of a variety of chaat, sweets, and kababs, emanating incredibly soul-numbing aromas.
It is one of the most common, easiest, and delicious street foods, and has been adapted into a local variation by virtually every state. It is very much like a potato patty―it is made using mashed potatoes, peas, and spices, coated with cornflour, and shallow-fried. Crispy on the inside and delightfully soft on the inside, this dish makes for a gratifying snack.
The number of kabab dishes in the city are numerous, the galouti kabab being one of the most popular ones. With a fascinating history behind it, this kabab is made by shallow frying a patty that is a mix of marinated minced meat and unripe papaya along with ghee and an array of spices. The dish is utterly delicious and exotic; the tender, juicy meat, coated with a crisp, golden brown layer imparts a heavenly taste to it.
The commercial capital city of India, Mumbai could very well rank among the top 5 cities in the number of street food joints in the world. The street food here has been imbibed from many other cuisines, but the ‘pav bhaji‘ stands out as the authentic local street food. The pav is a type of local bread, similar to a bun, but tougher. The bhaji is a completely mashed mixture of vegetables and numerous spices. Unlike many other curries, this mixture is pan-fried until the required taste and consistency is obtained. The hot vegetable mixture is served with a dollop of butter, garnished with onions and coriander, with butter-toasted pav.
Another local dish that is the most-preferred and obvious choice is the vada pav. The vada here is a very simple potato mixture coated with gram flour batter and deep-fried. It is encased within a pav and eaten just like that! Simple and humble and inexpensive, it is this dish that sums up the street food interest of the common man.
Chaat – Bhelpuri
Similar to dahi puri, sev puri, and other items of chaat, the bhelpuri deserves a special mention in the street food tour of Mumbai. It is made by mixing bhel―a puffed rice snack preparation―with sweet and sour chutneys, onions, raw mango pieces, and tomatoes. This is garnished with sev and coriander, and served with either puffed puri or papdi (flat puri).
Chaat – Ragda Patties
A popular chaat dish that is endemic to Mumbai, it consists of tempered stuffed patties―a mixture of mashed potatoes, spices, and cornflour is deep-fried to make the patties―and a tempered, spicy pea concoction (ragda) is prepared and poured over it. It is served by garnishing with onion and coriander.
Goa is rather famous for its beach shacks serving a variety of seafood, but Goan cuisine has the influence of the Portuguese cuisine, hence sausages and pork form a major part of the food here. The Goan chorizo, a spicy curry preparation of deep-red sausage meat, flavored with cumin, garlic, pepper, turmeric, etc., is served with pav, as a popular street food.
The litti looks quite similar to the baati of Jaipur―though they are made differently. The choka is a thick spicy mixture made of mashed eggplant and potatoes. Litti-choka is one of the most commonly served street foods in Bihar.
A historical and cultural city, Pune is home to numerous street food joints serving all kinds of street food, along with authentic Maharashtrian dishes. One of the most common street foods here is the missal pav. The missal is a very spicy concoction of sprout curry, kat (thin gravy), and a fried and dried savory snack mix. It is topped with chopped onions and served with pav or sliced bread.
Another popular street food is the sabudana wada, or deep-fried sago balls. Crunchy and filling, this dish is served with chutney, and is a popular snack item during fasting.
Endowed with rippling backwaters and abundant coconut trees, Kerala is a bounty of nature. The capital of the state, Thiruvananthapuram, takes cue from the many Indian cities and lines up street stalls all over that serve a variety of street foods, tweaked to suit the local tastes. Apart from idlis and dosas, one of the authentic street foods here is the ‘rice puttu‘, a traditional Keralite dish made with special rice flour and coconut, served with bananas or jaggery. Easy to prepare and very healthy, it takes precedence as one of the most popular street foods of Kerala.
It is another popular street food, mildly at par with the North Indian wada. However, the masala wadas are made of boiled and mashed bengal gram (instead of potatoes), fennel seeds, and spices, flattened into a patty, and deep-fried. Served with a cup of hot tea, it is one of the most famous street snacks in the city.
The street food of every country is unbelievably delicious and has a unique flavor. While certain dishes originate at that place, many others take inspiration from different other dishes. In India, for instance, the Chinese and Italian culture have a huge influence, and most of the metros have popular mixed cuisine dishes, like Szechuan rice, manchurian, hakka noodles, pizza, and pasta, right at the street-side food joints. The lip-smacking dishes make it worth a visit to this exotic country.