Sunday, November 27, 2011

Street Food - Part 1

If you have not had street food - ever, or in any part of the globe - I will say you are missing something. You are missing the casual atmosphere, getting fresh and tasty food and seeing it made right in front of you. What you won't miss is burning a hole in your pocket. Laaris (pronounced as laa-rees) or road-side places where they make the most delicious food were the ubiquitous small places lined up on the side of the roads in most cities in India. One of my favorite cuisines to eat at these road-side stalls was Indian Chinese food. As they read this post, I know my sister N and some other friends would probably be dreaming of the piping hot vegetarian manchurian and chilli garlic noodles that we used to get from there more than ten years back. It was almost a weekly or fortnightly routine to get any type of food from these laaris. We used to get this food more than ten years ago and people still love the street-side food in India. My sister also loved South Indian food from a road-side eatery in Baroda. It was a tad too spicy for me, but delicious nonetheless. Those who know A know that he loves food. One of his favorite was egg-bhurji (scrambled eggs, cooked with Indian spices, onions, tomatoes and cilantro) and any other egg preparation. He always says that you just cannot replicate the taste of road-side egg dishes at home.

Basically - the road side stalls offered food from Indian Chinese to authentic north Indian food to all sorts of egg-preparations, and a lot more. It is not just that the price is attractive at these places. These road-side food places - that stand on four wheels and cook food in a small area right in front of you also had the appeal of a very good taste. How many of you had had stale food in 3 star to 5-star hotels? That won't be the case here as these people don't have the mechanism to store food. You won't see a refrigerator or freezer at the laari. So you know it is fresh and that gets validated in the taste.

Bombay and Delhi boast of some of the best street-side food. There are vendors who may not even have their stall on four wheels. They may dish their lip-smacking snacks from a small box that is hoisted on a bicycle or have a sturdy long stool on which they keep their snacks. For instance, one can easily find Dabeli (pronounced as daa-bay-lee) sellers in Bombay - who may have a stall or may operate from their bicycle. Think of dabeli as a sandwich with spicy mashed potatoes, with a smearing of two or three chutneys and sprinkled with peanuts and pomengranate seeds.

The ever famous Bombay's Bhel puri that people eat not just by the beaches is again something one should try. It also brings me to another point. My mom always said that eat anything that is warm, but not cold. And the chutneys in the bhel and dabeli qualify as cold. The same goes for raw onions and tomatoes. Her logic was that anything that has been cooked will kill the germs. She was right, but we still indulged :) Similar to restaurants, seasoned road-side food vendors will ask you if you want your food mild, medium or spicy.

The nation's capital - New Delhi is no stranger to road side food. Here's an anecdote. On my last trip to India in 2009, I went to Delhi to visit my best friend T, her husband and their beautiful daughter. We went for a drive in the evening and her husband - being a foodie, told me to try chaat from one particular road-side vendor. I could not be more excited. It was around 7 PM. So we went there. It was as if I was a kid in the candy store then.
There were so many options to choose from, at a humble road-side vendor. Some were a tad bigger than the others. They worked so efficiently. Once again I didn't heed to my mother's advice. I had pani puri from there. Now anyone who has lived in India or has had family visiting from across the pond, knows that they are always told to be cautious of the water! And I had pani puri from a road-side vendor. I couldn't miss this chance. And I've lived in India all my life. So I had that, shared the dahi bhalla, aloo tikki chaat and samosa chaat.

How could I be in Delhi and miss the chaat? After driving for about half an hour, my friend's husband asked, "Dinner kahaan karenge?" (where will we do dinner?) And I told him I thought that that was dinner. To him that was snack. And to a lot of other Delhi residents, road-side vendors help tide the people over till dinner time. The road-side food stalls serve as a snack and the heavier dishes can be a meal in itself.

To end on a sweet note, my friend S highly recommended cold cocoa. I had never had it till I went to Bombay. Cold cocoa is cold milk, with rich chocolate and lots of ice. It may or may not be sweetened with sugar. I got my chance to try that when I went to Bilimora (a town in the state of Gujarat) to my friend L's place. Her dad took us to this place and I understood the reason why S always raved about it. Cold cocoa could be vaguely similar to mocha latte (minus the coffee) or a chocolate thick shake. Like all other street-eats, this was delicious too. I consider myself lucky that I have never fallen sick or had an upset stomach because I had food from one of the road-side food stalls. If you noticed the heading - it says Part 1. Part 2 is all about street food in the United States. This post is written as I reminisce small details of India and the small things that make you smile. Immaterial of the country you grew up in, what were some of your favorite street foods? Do you even enjoy street food? I would love to know your experience.

Pictures taken from,,


  1. Loved the post Amishi!!! Brought back some great memories. Especially loved the ending...if you ever get a chance, try cold cocoa near Karelibaug pani tanki...its the best ever. Rich, thick cocoa with huge chunks of delicious milk chocolate. Thanks a lot for this one. Can't wait for part II.

  2. This is great Amishi..You brought back so many memories of delicious street foods in Ahemdabad.. khada na daalwada, MG na chana chor garam, famous law garden ofcourse, sher bajaar ni paani poori :-)

  3. Thanks Sapna! I am glad the blog brought you back to good times. The only street food I am aware of in Ahmedabad was the one that you got across the road from IIM - the tea and the other food that you got. Good to know you remembered old days :). Thanks for stopping by the blog