Nothing can quite match the passion Indians have for their cuisine (although cricket and Bollywood closely follow). Mumbai, being the most populous city in India and the fifth populous in the world, is known for its street food. Despite 20% of the population living below the poverty line, and 70% in slums, the array of street food available in Mumbai caters for all. Wherever you go, be it the train station or the cinema, you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to quick, inexpensive and tasty street food. Mumbai is dotted with around 250000 street vendors which uniquely characterises the city.
One of the most commendable lifestyle habits in India is that food is mostly eaten fresh. The concept of frozen, tinned and ready-made food has not yet become a way of life. Hence, it comes as no surprise that street food is made freshly in front of your eyes. This not only makes for a more culturally immersive experience, but can also tempt you to borrow a recipe or two.
After scouring the streets for the most popular and loved dishes, I present to you my top 5.
1) Pani Puri, also known as Gol Gappa in the Northern parts of India, is joy-filled trip no matter how many times you’ve previously eaten it. It’s a circular, hollow crisp made of wheat, filled with potato, chick peas, sprouts, onions and masalas, dunked in spicy and sweet water. A small paper bowl is handed out and one Pani Puri is served at a time according to your preference of spice and sweetness. The crispy and moist textures erupt in your mouth like a water bomb, leaving you craving for more.
Where and How Much: One round of Pani Puri will get you six puris with one dry puri at the end to neutralise the sour aftertaste. Elco Market, Hill Road, Bandra West carries a reputation for its authentic flavour and quality. However, I found these Pani Puris to be quite overpriced at 80 rupees ($1.18). Usually one can find Pani Puris between 25 rupees ($0.37 to 40 rupees ($0.59), however, the water may not be safe for tourists or those with delicate stomachs. A trip to the Pani Puri stall is most enjoyable with family or a bunch of friends.
2) Bhel Puri, a type of chaat, consists of puffed rice, puris, sev (small strands made from chickpea flour), onions, tomatoes, tamarind and coriander and green chilli chutney. The delicate puffed rice melts in your mouth as the rest of the ingredients combine to create a mouth-watering, crunchy texture. This relatively low-fat dish, which amalgamates a range of flavours and spices, is the perfect snack to satiate your late afternoon hunger pangs.
Where and How Much: The Bhel Puri at Juhu Chowpatty Beach was an absolute delight to eat. This Bhel Puri was additionally garnished with raw mango pieces, adding an extra zest and refreshing element to the snack. Planting myself in the sand, with a big bowl of Bhel Puri, in front of the Arabian sea gave me a quick moment of escape in the bustling city. At 50 rupees ($0.73), this dish was worth every rupee. However, as this was sold at a prime location, you may be able to find this cheaper for around 20 rupees ($0.29), although perhaps with lesser ingredients.
3) Pav Bhaji is a dish you must try at least once in your lifetime. Oozing with butter, Pav Bhaji is the ultimate comfort food. Although created as a quick lunch for textile mill workers in Mumbai, it has quickly become a favourite household dish. The chunky, red gravy is made from potatoes, onions, cauliflower, tomatoes, spices, masalas, and of course, a big dollop of butter. It is garnished with fresh coriander, raw onions and a dash of lemon to tickle your taste buds. Watching how skilfully the ingredients are mashed together only speeds up the anticipation to dig into the dish. Served with fluffy bread baps smothered in butter, it is best eaten with your hands.
Where and How Much: Pav Bhaji at Juhu Chowpatty Beach is world famous, and at 100 rupees ($1.47) and around half the price elsewhere, it makes for a satisfying meal. This is quite spicy, so if you, like me, are likely to have a burning stomach post this meal, treat yourself to a delicious Kulfi ice-cream to neutralise the spices.
4) Vada Pav is the Mumbaiker’s favourite nibble. No trip to Mumbai is complete without a bite of this succulent snack coupled with a sip of masala-infused cutting chai. Also known as the Bombay Burger or the ‘poor man’s burger’, this carb-filled dish spikes up one’s energy levels to hustle on with the day. It’s the perfect on-the-go snack to grab, whether in the train, scurrying from one place to the other, or cruising in a car. It consists of a deep-fried potato patty sandwiched in a buttered soft bap, served with garlic masala, chutneys and fried green chillies.
Where and How Much: One of the most loved Vada Pav joints is the Anand Stall, Opposite Mithibai College, Vile Parle West. This Vada Pav costs 20 rupees ($0.29), however, it can be found cheaper elsewhere. This stall brings together students, workers, tourists, office-goers- all for the love of Vada Pav!
5) Dosa is India’s answer to the Crepe or Pancake. I am not surprised that this dish comes under the ‘Top Ten Tasty Foods of the World’. Although it is a South Indian speciality, the popularity of it has spread Pan India. This crispy savoury base, made from rice and lentils, is filled with a stuffing of your choice (most popularly, potato) and served with a coconut based chutney and sambar (a spicy lentil-based vegetable stew). The Dosa is an extremely versatile dish, offering innovative fillings and flavours such as pizza, spinach, chow mein, schezwan and even Pav Bhaji! It is extremely wholesome and filling, therefore works perfectly as a meal.
Where and How Much: The Dosa stall at Four Bunaglows Market, Andheri West is extremely popular, especially during the evenings. A Masala Dosa cost 40 rupees, which is very low-priced considering the generous servings given. The price spirals higher depending on the range of joints or restaurants; one of the most expensive being the 24K Carot Gold Dosa at 1295 rupees ($19)- how luxurious!
These are my top 5 street foods that you must try. Ditch the restaurants and immerse yourself in the authentic local culture and cuisine with these scrumptious dishes!