Of the streets


Ever wondered how some street foods are pan-Indian, you can find them in almost any part of India? They may taste a bit different in their different avatars, but the essence remains the same. Anuradha Rajan does a roundup of ten such popular Indian street dishes and tells us why we seek them wherever we go!

The streets of India are incomplete without their street food. A hawker or vendor with a portable stall sells food or drink in public areas like a market, a fair, and at stations. India is famous for its cheap and tasty street food, and every Indian city has its own signature snack.

The metros are famous for their Indian Chinese, whereas the smaller towns and cities stick to their traditional flavours. Amongst the traditional favourites, it is interesting to note that samosa- which we consider to be the mascot for Indian street food- has its origin in the Middle East! Here are some ubiquitous Indian street foods:


Momos are very popular today

Momos are very popular today

These boiled dumplings originated in Tibet or Nepal, but are served all across India. Traditionally filled with yak meat, you can now buy vegetable versions and those filled with chicken or lamb on street corners, served with a dip.

Aloo tikki
It is a snack made of boiled potatoes, onions and tempered with various spices. In Mumbai, a popular version of aloo tikki is served with spicy curry and various chutneys and is called ragda pattice. The vada in a vada pav found in Maharashtra, also involves a potato patty, which can be compared to a bonda found in the southern states. The bonda is a typical south Indian snack, and like the vada pav is coated with a gram flour covering. Vegetable bonda is a dish of Udipi cuisine and in Kerala, a sweet version of it called sugiyan is also found.

Did you know the samosa can be traced to the word sanbosag (Persian) and is said to have originated in the Middle East prior to the 10th century! It’s known by different names, and due to cultural diffusion, samosas are prepared all over the world. In Delhi and most of the northern states, a big version of the samosa with a spicy filling of masala potatoes, peas, and even dry fruits is quite popular. In Odisha, West Bengal and Jharkhand, shingara (the East Indian version of samosas) are popular snacks and are found almost everywhere. They are a bit smaller and consist of unmashed boiled potato along with other ingredients. The coating is almost like a pie crust. In Hyderabad, a smaller version of the samosa referred to as lukhmi is consumed. In South India, they are slightly different and vary according to the taste of the locals.

Idli, dosa, appam

The south Indian dosa and idli are pan-Indian now

The south Indian dosa and idli are pan-Indian now

Touted as the oldest of all culinary techniques, the process of fermentation is used to create some of the most spectacular dishes of all. In India, different regions have their unique fermented preparations, which the locals have mastered over the years, and these dishes have become an integral part of their culinary lineage. Whether it’s appam and ishtew (a vegetable or meat dish made with coconut milk) in Kerala, idlis and dosas with varieties of chutneys and strangely, varieties of sambhar (spicy lentil dish with vegetables) too. The dosa has gone global with cheese and schezwan words being tossed around. Breakfast is so much more than muesli on the streets of India.

Variously called bhel (Maharashtra), bhela, churu muri/churmuri (Karnataka), jhaal muri (Kolkata), it is a snack made of puffed rice. As indicated by the famous song, Chowpatty jaayenge bhelpuri khaayenge, bhel is often identified with the beaches of Mumbai, and is thought to have originated here in Mumbai. It has travelled all over the country and the modifications manifest in the garnishing.

Frankies, rolls, wraps
A kati roll is a street food dish originating from Kolkata and is said to have started its life in the Nizam restaurant and then later spread elsewhere. Today, the kati roll comes in a large number of varieties and the innovations come in two areas- the fillings and the wrap. The original filling is a skewer-roasted kebab wrapped in a paratha bread. The common variants on the filling are egg, potato, paneer, mixed vegetables and curried chicken or mutton and the more exotic combinations such as thai or schezwan are also available. In some areas of the country like Kerala, we have a deconstructed roll in the form of paratha with chicken, egg, or mutton curry. And in Mumbai, you have the famous frankies being sold at various nooks and corners and even malls.


The luscious, ever popular jalebi

The luscious, ever popular jalebi

A dessert which has multiple places of origin like the Middle East, South Asia, East Africa and so on, can be served hot or cold and is very popular all over the country. It goes by different names such as jhangiri or imarti, each with a variation.

The gobi machurian is an Indian-Chinese fried cauliflower food item rising steadily in the popularity charts. It is the result of the adaptation of Chinese cooking and seasoning techniques to suit Indian tastes. In the dry and gravy form, common ingredients like cauliflower, cornflower, maida (flour), soya sauce, ground pepper, and the typical garnish of spring onion can warm your system like nothing else. The dash of MSG (ajinomoto) needs to be ignored once in a while!

Puri bhaji
Originating from South Asia, it is commonly consumed all over the Indian subcontinent. In the southern part of India it is mostly a breakfast dish and in the other parts, it is a snack or a light meal. It is usually served with a curry or bhaji and in some parts, the richer cousin chhole bhature can also be found. Puri is also served at ceremonial functions as part of the prasad with halwa made out of rawa (sooji).

Pakodas are created by taking a couple of ingredients and dipping it in a batter of gram flour and deep frying it. The variations again come in the ingredient that is being deep fried, which could go from an onion, eggplant, potato, spinach, plantain, cheese, paneer (cottage cheese), cauliflower, tomato, or chilli peppers and can also occasionally be made with bread, fish, or chicken. In some parts of the country it is known as a bhajji or a bhajiya, and no monsoon day in India is complete without a bowlful of pyaaz pakoda (onion pakoda).

Hope this article makes you hungry enough to overlook the dubious seasonings and calories for a day to savour some finger-licking street fare!


Anuradha Rajan

The writer is a mother of two, with a passion for cooking and food presentation. In an earlier avatar she was a high school teacher of English and Environmental Science.