Our previous blogs have given you a list of must-see palaces and forts and essential things to do in India, but this time instead of sightseeing (although, of course, the streets of Mumbai are full of wonderful unexpected sights) we are going to focus on another aspect of Indian culture: street food. At Boundless Explorism, we offer a street food tour of Mumbai and no trip to this bustling, energetic city is complete without these favourite culinary icons of Mumbai life.
Vada Pav is one of the most famous and popular of Mumbai street foods. It consists of a deep-fried potato patty, accompanied with spicy and sweet chutneys, chillies and garlic, served in a soft bread roll (pav). A popular origin theory is that it was created in Mumbai’s mill district by Ashok Vaidya who opened the first vada pav stall outside Dadar station in 1966 as a cheap, fast meal for the mill workers. There are now over 20,000 stalls in Mumbai selling this tasty, spicy snack.
Sev Puri is one of many delicious chaats you can find in Mumbai’s vibrant street food scene. Chaat is a type of savoury snack typically served as an hors d’oeuvre or as street food. Chaats typically use variants of fried dough, diced boiled potatoes, chickpeas, tangy sweet and sour chutneys, coriander and yoghurt. There are hundreds of varieties across India. Sev Puri uses flat fried bread discs (puri) topped with potato, onion, chickpeas, pomegranate, cumin, usually mint and tamarind chutney, and sometimes mango and dahi, and of course, sev. Sev is made of small pieces of vermicelli noodles seasoned with spices and deep-fried. It is a popular and tasty topping for chaats and in sev puri makes a great crunchy contrast with the runny chutneys and dahi.
One of the most common and popular street foods is Pani Puri. It consists of round, hallow deep-fried crispbread (puri) filled with potato, onion, chickpeas, chilli powder and tamarind chutney. Flavoured water (pani) is poured into the hollow of the puri. The snack should be eaten in one mouthful creating an explosion of sweet and spicy flavours in the mouth. Beautiful!
This snack originated in Kutch in Gujarat, but travelled beyond the area with migrant workers and is now a popular street food in Mumbai. Dabeli (meaning ‘pressed’) is another favourite to use pav. It is a gorgeous mixture of sweet and savoury flavours combining boiled potatoes, a special dabeli masala (coriander seeds, cumin seeds, star anise, cardamom, cloves, peppercorns and cinnamon), drizzled with tamarind and chilli chutneys and garnished with roasted peanuts, sev and pomegranate all served in pav.
Pav is a beloved component of much street food and eats with this thick vegetable curry and lots of butter, it is truly a match made in heaven! This is another street food that began as a fast, cheap lunch for the city’s textile workers, but has now become a staple at many restaurants. The curry usually includes potatoes, onions, peppers, carrots, chillies, tomatoes and peas all cooked on a large griddle. It is served with pav and lots of butter. One of the nicest settings to try pav bhaji is sunset at Chowpatty Beach. Grab a blanket and watch the sun go down whilst trying a hot, rich, buttery pav bhaji. Absolute bliss!
Another wonderful chaat is bhel puri. Similar to sev puri, bhel puri is a tasty combination of tangy and sweet flavours, mixing potatoes, onions, chaat masala, coriander, mint and often tomatoes and chilli with chutneys and in one variation, yoghurt. Bhelpuri is then added to this vegetable and chutney base. Bhelpuri is a mixture of puffed rice and sev. Mumbai food stalls will often sell this from a paper cone and it’s one to be eaten quickly before the rice becomes soggy. But, when it’s a snack as tasty as bhel puri, finishing it quickly won’t be a problem!
A dosa is a thin pancake made from a batter of lentils and rice ground together into a fine grain. It originated in South India but has become a popular cuisine all over the country. The masala dosa is a variation on the dosa made with a stuffing of boiled potatoes, mustard seeds, turmeric powder, coriander, lemon juice and coconut. It is served with an accompaniment of chutneys and sambar (a lentil-based stew).
Onion pakodas are light and crunchy delicious snacks. Onions are deep-fried in a batter made of gram flour, herbs and spices such as curry leaves, turmeric, chilli powder, cumin and carrom. Chopped onion pieces are covered in the batter and then deep-fried until they are golden and crispy. They are both sweet from the onion and spicy. Perfect for a teatime treat!
This sandwich is a combination of unlikely ingredients which come together to make such a perfect snack, it has to be tasted to be believed. It is so tasty! Between three buttered white slices of bread are slices of beetroot, boiled potatoes, cucumbers, onions and a green, mint chutney. There is also a toasted version and some include cheese.
For those with a sweet tooth, or simply for those wanting a sweet treat to counteract all those spicy snacks, Mumbai street food vendors offer plenty of options, and amongst one of the sweetest is jalebi. To make jalebi a maida flour batter is deep-fried in a spiral shape and then soaked in syrup. Some variations use additional flavours such as rosewater. They can be served hot or cold, but it’s best to eat them fresh out of the hot oil when the syrup coating is hot and sticky and the centre is a perfect combination of crisp outside and chewy centre. Be warned – these are extremely sweet, but also extremely delicious!
There are few things better to cool off in the Mumbai heat than kulfi. Kulfi is a frozen, dairy dessert made by slowly cooking sweetened milk until it condenses and thickens. It is then poured into small clay pots (kulhars), sealed and frozen. It now comes in many different flavours but be sure to try the more traditional flavours as well such as cream, rose, mango, cardamom or saffron.
Trying Mumbai street food is thirsty work and there isn’t a better accompaniment than masala chai. There are thousands of chai sellers (chaiwallahs) across Mumbai and you will see queues of workers lining up at stalls during their tea breaks. It is made by boiling black tea with a mixture of spices (ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, fennel seeds, nutmeg, pepper, honey, vanilla) and milk. Try it with the added natural sweet flavour of jaggery for a true Mumbai masala chai.
Mumbai is a culinary dream and the city’s street food scene is seriously not to be missed. Many of the vendors have been operating for decades and are as integral to city life as the many tourist sites. With thousands of options, it can be quite overwhelming for the visitor and it is best to navigate the maze of different neighbourhoods, train stations and beachside vendors with a local. Boundless Explorism offer a street food tour that will take you to the city’s best spots!