FoodPeople & Culture

The flavours of India – Street food style

Text by Anusmita Dutta

Mumbai is currently under a deluge. Ganpati festival has coincided with heavy rains pouring on the city continuously for the last 4-5 days. Not letting the downpour be a dampener on the holidays, I decided to spend yet another weekend indoors and recalled a quote that I had come across a while back on a social networking site, “Peace and happiness are eating samosa and vada pav all alone-Dee”. So, I took some inspiration out of the writer’s book and decided to have a quiet evening at home while enjoying Samosas and Tea from a local Street food outlet. It truly made my evening.

I am sure, the word ‘street food’ gives rise to many emotions and feelings in all of us, it could be peace, instant gratification, excitement and even guilt for the health-conscious.

So what do we mean by the term ‘Street Food’? By street food, we mean food that is sold by vendors on the street or public places and are available for immediate consumption. People eat street food for many reasons. The top three reasons are:

1) Convenience because they can be consumed on the go

2) Value for money as they are  far cheaper than restaurant food

3) Taste as they are smell and taste delicious

Often, there is a tendency to believe that street food is the Indian version of the ‘western junk food’. The confusion occurs because often both can be consumed on the go. Moreover, both types of food are usually fried and fatty and something the health-conscious consume only on ‘cheat days’ so to speak. But street food and junk food are also different in many ways. This is because while junk food has poor nutritional value, is precooked/pre-processed and uses preservatives,street food is usually fresh. Moreover, street food vendors often prepare the food right in front of you and therefore you can be better assured of the quality of hygiene.

The history of street food goes back to ancient Greece in the 16th century BC when sellers fried small fish to buyers on the street. In ancient Rome, Street food was purchased by the poor who didn’t have a kitchen in their homes. The article History of Street Food mentions a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation, released in 2012, citing that over 2.5 billion people eat street food in India every day. This shows the popularity of street food in India in current times also.

Freshly fried kachoris and mirchi pakodas, anyone? Photo credit: Tanya Munshi
Freshly fried kachoris and mirchi pakodas, anyone? Photo credit: Tanya Munshi

Apart from researches done and data collected by various organizations, food festivals are another testimony of the popularity of street food in India. In India, The National Street Food Festival, organised in Delhi by the National Association of Street Food Vendors of India is a platform dedicated to the celebration of India’s Street Food culture as street food from all the states of the country are showcased. The festival doubles up as a celebration of the cultural diversity of the country through the culinary space.

Moreover, the popularity of Street Food goes back to India’s rich cultural heritage with influences from different cultures including the British. According to celebrated Australian Culinary Historian Charmaine O’ Brian”Indian food is laden with history, culture, religion, economic conditions as well as weather,”

To the naysayers, Street food is not the best of food for a healthy diet. This is because most of the street food dishes are oily and deep-fried. Moreover, they are very dense in calories. The Nutrition and Food Science Journal reported that Indian snacks are very energy-dense with 148-603kcal/100g. In fact, when I spoke a friend based in Uttarakhand to know about the street food available in her town, she told me with a chuckle that being a nutritionist she could hardly boast of eating any street food other than the healthy boiled corn available on the streets. The educated have health concerns towards the consumption of street food and the awareness is welcome. But there is also no doubt that Street food is part of our culture and comes as a package with ‘entertainment’ or ‘outings’ where you go out for a fun outing and enjoy these tasty meals with a very little dent on your pockets. Can we do away with them entirely from our lives? Perhaps no.

Though Street food invariably brings before us images of Samosa, Chaat, Puchka, Dahi Papri Chaat, Kathi Rolls, Dabeli, Mirchi ke Pakode to name a few, we have attempted to pick out few Street food items from across India which can be deemed relatively healthier options.

1. Indore Poha Jalebi:

Indore Poha Jalebi is a popular Street food in Indore. As Gaurav Namdeo, a resident of Mumbai and a native of Indore puts it “ Indore Poha Jelebi is the most popular Street Food in Madhya Pradesh. It is is a unique dish because the sugary and syrupy  jalebi’, the popular Indian sweet adds a unique flavour to the savoury ‘Poha’.” The history of Indore Poha Jalebi dates back to the time of India’s Independence in 1947. It is also popular in Bhopal and other parts of Madhya Pradesh.

So how is ‘Poha’ made? ‘Poha’ is nothing but flattened rice cooked in oil with onions, chillies, mustard and cumin seeds and curry leaves, peanuts etc. It is at times served with extremely spicy curry made of sprouted beans called ‘Usal’, and topped with Sev ( a type of savoury snack). A lemon served on the side, adds a tangy taste to the dish.

Though there are different variations to the recipe of Poha/Pohe and it is an extremely popular breakfast item in Maharashtra, Indore is the only place where Poha is served with Jalebis. It is the only place where the popular Poha/Pohe offers all contrasting flavours- savoury, tangy and sweet. The dish offers healthy carboydrates and about 23% fat. It is also light on the stomach. The Jalebi of course offers little health benefits. But the good news is that one piece of Jalebi has about 150 calories whereas a Samosa has 308 calories. Moreover, one can choose not to have the sev topping or less of the curry.

Garadu. Photo credit: Smita Bhargava
Garadu. Photo credit: Smita Bhargava

2. Fried Garadu:

This is a dish typical of Indore, Madhya Pradesh. Garadu is a root from the yam/potato family. Fried Garadu is served with Garadu masala and makes an awesome dish to be devoured by street food lovers. Garuda is, however, a seasonal vegetable and those who are not high on fried stuff must know the dish is a winter speciality only. The hot and crispy Garadu’s helps one combat the winter chills in the region.

Sarafa Market Indore is a great place to enjoy fried garadus among other street food.

Dehradun Bun Tikki. Photo courtesy: Tanya Munshi
Dehradun Bun Tikki. Photo courtesy: Tanya Munshi

3. Dehradun Bun Tikkis:

Picturesque Dehradun instantly brings to our minds images of hills, greenery, and a cool climate. Those who have not visited the gorgeous hill station must know that Dehradun also boasts of a variety of multi-cuisines that includes Indian, Chinese, and Tibetian food. However, for travellers, it is the Bun Tikki stalls that really catch attention. For one, you get to know that Macdonalds’s burgers are not the only way to enjoy buns. Dehradun Bun tikkis are made of potatoes and are crispy in texture. The tikkis are then placed in between the bun with chutney, curd and onion. The dish is filling and reasonably priced. Moreover, it is prepared fresh and therefore a healthier option than tikkis made of preprocessed meat and ingredients as in done in big fast-food joints.

Dwarka Road E.C Road has a famous stall which serves the best Bun Tikkis in Dehradun.

4. Sundal:

We have heared of Idli, Dosas of Southern India. But Sundal is popular in Madras and Kerela as street food. Sundal is made of boiled chickpeas, tossed in mustard seed, curry leaves and coconut. There is a variation to the dish as the Sundal is at times topped with crispy vadas or grated raw mangoes. Usually, without the Vadas, the dish is low fat and prepared in less oil and therefore a healthy snack.

The best Sundals are available in the beach stalls of Chennai like the Marina Beach.

Street food in India - a parallel delicious universe
Street food in India – a parallel delicious universe

5. Delhi Fruit Chaat:

Delhi is known for its street delicacies. Delhi’s street food lovers have always shown undying love for the typical street food like Pani puri, Tikki or Aloo Papri Chaat etc. Among these ‘sinful’ items, you have the Delhi fruit chaat for the more health-conscious ones. Fruit Chaat is also known as ‘Kulle ki Chaat’.

The Kulle ki Chaat is made by scooping out vegetables and fruits in which the Chaat made of masalas, chickpeas, fruit/vegetable pieces are served.

Bishan Swaroop is best known for its fruit chaat. In Delhi, Bishan Swaroop Chaat Bhandar in Chandni Chowk specialises in fruit chaats and use their own in-house masalas. The shop is 100 years old and known for its quality and service.

6. Chinese and Tibetian Street Food in Kolkatta:

The cultural capital of India Kolkatta is the go-to place for food lovers. Kolkatta offers food that caters to every taste bud with its rich culinary art. Kolkata’s Phuchka, Ghugni Chaat, Jhalmuri, Egg rolls, Singhara are symbolic of the city’s street food. Kolkatta is home to Chinese Indians who emigrated to Kolkatta during the British Rule and therefore Chinese and Tibetan food has a firm place in the city’s food joints.

Momos, Soups, Noodles, and Tibetan bread are popular options in this category. Tiretti Bazar is the most popular area in Kolkatta that serves Chinese and Tibetan Street food. Over here such is the demand that the stock’s closing time is 7 am! Moreover, the Chinese and Tibetan snacks undoubtedly are healthier options than the oily deep-fried street food items.

Whatever the arguments against street food may be, the fact is they are here to stay and always will be. Street food is the go-to food for filling one’s hunger while you are out to a fair, flea market or on a long outdoor shopping jaunt. Street food is also a viable business option for many small business owners. The investment is low and often the stalls are mobile. All the business owner needs is a vehicle and access to quality raw material.

With the Fit India movement, staying healthy is now a national goal. As such, we hope Street food vendors try out more innovative recipes and variations of existing dishes that not only score better on health but are also cost-effective and appealing to all kinds of taste buds.

Anusmita Dutta
Anusmita Dutta

About our writing program student:
Anusmita Dutta works as the Content Head in She started her career in the e-learning industry but moved on to writing in the print and the web medium as well. She is also a Spoken English Tutor and a children’s storyteller.

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Tanya is a graduate in Sociology from Sophia College, Mumbai, a post-graduate in Communications and Media from SNDT Women’s University in Mumbai and holds a Master's Degree in Journalis & Mass Communications from Chandigarh University. A former writing mentor and a seasoned lifestyle writer, Tanya writes columns on The Lifestyle Portal of life and living.

One thought on “The flavours of India – Street food style

  • Gaurav namdeo

    Street food is a lifeline in almost every country whether it’s developed or developing…it represents culture and tradition… In India where culture varies state to state food changes accordingly hence here, we find a huge history and variety of food …Anushmita you mentioned it very well very nicely drafted writeup great!


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