Be it festivals, languages, religions, culture or traditions, India is a land of great diversity. The same diversity is seen in the food habits and cuisine of its people. From North to South, East to West the variety is astounding. And what better and easier way to taste and get a ‘feel’ of this expanse of local delights than through the wide array showcased on the streets of India; street food to be precise!
From sweet to hot and spicy, from starters to main course, from desserts to refreshing fruit juices you don’t need to look far, just turn the corner; something awaits you there.
And there’s more; office-goers in their lunch break, fatigued shoppers on the move, teenagers after a game of football; people from all walks of life, standing patiently in line, waiting, while the ever obliging vendor from across the counter provides them with their favourite vada pav, their next round of pani puri , their thirst- quenching glass of sugarcane juice! He knows most of his regular clients by their names, knows their preferences: meetha (sweet), slightly teekha (spicy), extra chutney, plenty of ice…… the list never ends!
Wouldn’t you like to find out what draws these people, on a daily basis, to the colourful stalls with their aromatic, sweet, spicy, oily favourites? Stalls with their own local inventions as well as Indian versions of pizzas, momos, and Manchurian?
Let’s begin our journey down the streets of India, and, you be the judge (sadly without being able to sample them) of what that great attraction is. What propels food lovers towards this aromatic, ‘easily available’, ‘freshly prepared, ‘value for money’ food culture that goes by the name of street food.
Aloo is potato. But what’s tikki? Mashed boiled potatoes, mixed with a variety of herbs and spices and then fried golden brown in hot oil to form something like a patty or a mini burger. Mouth-watering crispy aloo tikki is paired with freshly cut onions, yoghurt and different chutneys; tamarind, mint, to name a few. Where can you find aloo tikki? In almost every city in the country, with possible variations; stuffed with paneer, chana dal, etc.
This refreshing snack made with puris (round, deep fried, crispy Indian bread) with dahi (yoghurt) is your best option for a hot summer’s day. Originally from Mumbai, one serving consists of 5-6 puris loaded with boiled potato, freshly cut onions, fresh yoghurt and a variety of chutneys; tangy, sweet and hot. The puris are garnished with yellow sev (fine, crispy noodle-like, made from chickpea flour), dry spice powders and coriander/cilantro.
Pav Bhaji one of the favourites in Mumbai is said to have been invented years ago for the textile workers who needed a quick, hot, nutritious meal at lunch time. This slightly colourful, highly aromatic meal is prepared on a huge tava (concave, metal cooking pan). It is made from a variety of boiled and mashed vegetables and a blend of spices all sautéed in plenty of butter. It is served hot with freshly chopped onions, a slice of fresh lemon, pickle and bread that is toasted and buttered lightly.