Once a culinary enigma solved only by the most intrepid of travellers, the cuisine of India is today one of the world’s most popular international foods. Rich, silky curries and delicately spiced dishes continue to delight diners from Rio to Riyadh, yet the sub-continent’s diverse street food is just as spectacular as its more up-market offerings. Delicious deep fried samosas, juicy lamb kathi rolls, and much more make up India’s long list of street food specialities, which provide locals with fresh, tasty, and quick morsels that can be eaten quickly or even on the go.
A huge country, India’s street food changes dramatically with the local terrain. In the northern state of Punjab, roadside vendors serve up comforting batches of Bhature Chole, a combination of spicy chickpeas served with fried bread called bhatoora. On chilly winter mornings, this is the breakfast of choice for many of the region’s workers, who find welcome respite in the salty, spicy flavours of the dish. Further south in the nation’s beating heart of Mumbai, the local speciality is
Vada Pav, a kind of fried potato sandwich that is beloved by everybody from manual labourers to white-collar office workers. The combination of crisp coating, fluffy potato, soft bread, and tangy spices have made this humble sandwich a national favourite, with its low price putting the Vada Pav among the nation’s most democratic of street foods.
Another Mumbai institution is the classic Pani Puri, which consists of hollow spheres of fried bread filled with tamarind water, chickpeas, and a spicy potato mash. Another cheap but delicious snack option, the sheer range of textures and flavours in this dish make it a must for anybody visiting the country.
Although much of India remains vegetarian, some of the country’s best street food is nonetheless focused on the use of chicken, lamb, and other delicious meats. In the southern state of Tamil Nadu, a popular snack among meat eaters consists of a whole grilled quail that has been marinated in a mixture of chilli, cumin, turmeric, and sometimes even yoghurt. The effect is a meat of the utmost delicacy and flavour, whose meat has been beautifully tenderised by the use of a marinade. Further north, in the historic Mughal cities of Ajmer, Agra, and Lucknow, a delectable variety of kebabs and grilled meats awaits visitors. The shawarma-like lamb kathi roll, a classic of Indian street food originating in Kolkata, remains very popular in the region, whilst the Lucknow speciality of Shami kebab is also a hit with street food diners. Consisting of finely minced lamb mixed with ground chickpeas, egg, and a range of spices, Shami kebab is generally served with lemon juice and raw onion.
Although by no means an exhaustive list, this article gives readers a taste of the diversity and deliciousness of Indian street food. From Tamil Nadu in the south to Jammu in the north, visitors to India will find a veritable buffet of treats offered on the highways, railways, and city streets of this incredible nation.