If you are visiting Mumbai for the first time, it might easily get overwhelming. Beeping cars and auto rickshaws, vibrant colours, smells and flavours intertwine together, creating a unique picture. Mumbai street food is an experience not to be missed. Devour, experiment, explore, – an amazing array of tasty treats is waiting for you in those stalls, shacks and shoppes that will surely please the palates of vegetarians and carnivores alike.
Flavour adventure in India simply has to begin with pani puri – famous street snack made of deep fried crisp, which gets cracked at the top and then filled with potato and chickpeas. Tamarind, coriander and garam masala flavoured water is poured into the hollow right before the snack is placed into customer’s bowl. You usually get one pani puri at a time, which has to be eaten in one go. Eat as many of those as you like to your heart’s (or stomach’s) content. You can try those snacks from a stall in Chowpatty or in a famous Elko Puri centre.
Dahi puri originated in Mumbai and spread out it all Maharashtra state. Just like pani puri, it is also made of crispy shells that are filled with potato, chickpea and flavoured water. The main difference is the presentation: dahi puris are typically served 5 or 6 pieces a plate, generously topped up with yoghurt, mung beans and sprinkled with chopped coriander. Sometimes chilli powder and sev – small crispy noodles – can be added as a garnish. They are more flavoursome than pani puri and given the two, I’d go for dahi puri any day.
Puffed up rice and deep fried sev are essential components of this crunchy snack in addition to potatoes, onions and chaat masala. Tamarind and sweet date chutney is poured over the top and it is garnished with finely chopped up vegetables: tomato, cucumber and coriander. Bhel puri is a type of chaat – a snack typically sold from road carts throughout India. Expect to find it around the beaches in Mumbai, where you will get a small paper plate piled up with it.
Pav bhaji means ‘bread with curry’. The dish originated in 1850s as a fast lunchtime meal for textile mill workers and these days it is served from Mumbai street food stalls to formal restaurants. You know you found pav bhaji when you spot a street vendor grinding up vegetables in red sauce on a big griddle. Thick and aromatic curry is then ladled into one compartment of a square serving tray and chopped onions are placed next to it along with fresh brioche type of bread roll. Dunk the bread in the curry, sprinkle some onions and enjoy one of the most delicious meals you can find on Mumbai streets.
Naan chaap also known as naan sandwich looks like a small burger with meat filling in between of halved soft bread. Spiced up mutton is cooked in a slow pressure cooker and sprinkled with chopped mint and coriander before covering it with the top slice of the bun. The fragrance of spices and the tenderness of meat makes it a real treat.
Baida means egg, so what you get is roti parcel stuffed with minced meat and egg mix and fried on tava. It reminds of a big crepe with a lot of filling. Eat it drizzled with lemon juice or accompanied with raita – yoghurt with chopped cucumbers and spices.
These flavoursome mutton meatballs are made with allspice, ginger, turmeric, chilli powder, rolled in egg and bread crumbs and deep fried. Bite sized treats come served with a vedge of lemon or some chutney. They are a perfect snack or an entree before picking up some more food to sample from the nearby street vendors.
Mohammad Ali Road is one of the best places for trying non-vegetarian options in Mumbai and they are plentiful here. Chicken tikka roll is made of yoghurt and masala marinated chicken pieces wrapped in egg coated fried roti. One is too little, two is too much, that’s how I’d describe the encounter with these moreish rolls. They could be a perfect breakfast meal, lunch snack or late night munchy.
Kulfi can be described as traditional Indian ice cream, even though it is made in a slightly different way and has more dense texture. Unlike making regular ice cream, kulfi is not whipped. The milk is cooked on a low temperature until it thickens and then slow frozen in icy water, resulting in a very smooth texture devoid of ice critstals.
Plain cream, rose, mango, cardamom, saffron and pistachio kulfi flavours are the ones you would usually come across and often you will be served falooda noodles sprinkled with rose water to it. You can order a multiple layered serving or buy small kulfi popsicles. In general, the more natural it looks, the better it tastes. My best shot was getting natural cream flavour kulfi from an old kulfiwala (kulfi vendor) sitting on the ground on the way to Mahalakshmi temple. He had kulfi on sticks, packed in metal cones and submerged in icy water. The man was pulling kulfi out of cone before handing the treat to his customers.
If you walk along the street and see a shop submerged in smoky haze and men stirring something in barrel sized pots, most likely it will be a sign you can treat yourself with gulab jamun there. This dessert is made by heating milk on a low flame until it starts solidifying into a dough, then shaping small balls and deep frying them in ghee. The balls are soaked in rose and cardamom syrup, so be prepared for sugar rush. There can be different variations of gulab jamun, some of them more brown in colour due to sugar added into the dough.
Photo credits: cover image, pani puri