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Nothing helps a person understand a new culture better than exploring a country's street food.
India is so packed full of incredible street food to try that it can be hard to know where to start. In this article, you'll find our practical guide to the best street food cities, top street food dishes, and some information on how to eat street food safely.
Some of the top street food cities in India are Delhi, Mumbai, and Jaipur. Some of our favorite dishes are aloo tikki, pani puri, and pav bhaji.
India has always loved its street food and any city you visit in the country will be lined with vendors selling local favorites. On the streets, you can find meals, desserts, and refreshing drinks like chai or fresh-squeezed juice.
Indian street food is often spicy, sometimes oily, and always delicious. It's also a great equalizer with people from all classes and economic backgrounds lining up at popular vendors.
Indian street food has a long history. On the streets of Delhi, you can visit kebab vendors who used to serve the Mughal kings. In Kolkata, you'll find fusion street food that was created with British customers in mind during colonial times.
No matter where you go in India, you'll find tasty street food to try but some cities are more famous for their local specialties than others. Below are our recommended street food destinations.
The capital of India not only today but also during the time of Mughal kings and British rule, Delhi is a large mixture of cultures and a foodies’ paradise. From street food to international cuisines, Delhi can blow your mind in every expanse.
Near the Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk, travelers can visit Mughlai food joints that have been open since the time of kings. This is a great place to try kebabs, chole, chaat, and momos.
Jaipur is a popular place to visit and is full of great Rajasthani dishes. Here you can try kachori, gol gappa (pani puri), kathi rolls, and mutton tikka.
Jaipuri street food is often flavorful, spicy, and sweet.
Not only do you have a chance to taste some incredibly flavorful combinations of ingredients, but standing along the humid streets of Mumbai, watching countless people go by, is part of what adds to your experience.
Mumbai has quite a unique street food scene and is the place where delicacies like pav bhaji and bhelpuri were invented.
Kolkata is often named the number one spot street food city in the country by Indians. Kolkata is particularly famous for its quantity of vendors and sheer variety of options.
Kolkata is were the kathi roll, which is a flatbread that is rolled up and contains kebabs, egg, onion, lemon, spices, and red chilies.
Indian street food is considered by some to be the hidden gem of Indian cuisine. Not only are the appetizer-sized portions ideal, but there is absolutely no skimping on the flavor right down to the tiniest bite.
Another great thing about Indian street food is the sheet variety of options, carnivores will find plenty of dishes that are packed full of spiced meats whereas vegetarians and vegans will also be able to find plenty of options to try themselves.
Here are some of our top recommendations.
Also known in certain parts of India as gol gappa of puchka, pani puri is considered to be the national symbol of Indian street food. Puri is a small round ball of crunchy bread.
To make pani puri, these crunchy balls are punctured on top and filled with delicious veggies. The inner filling is often a seasoned mixture of mashed potatoes to which mashed chickpeas and bean sprouts are occasionally added.
The pani puris are then garnished with toppings including tamarind and mint, finely chopped green chilies, and diced onions. The final touch is the water or pani, which is typically flavored with tamarind paste and chaat masala.
Although pani puris are of the most popular street foods around, we recommend only trying them when your stomach is used to Indian food. For some people, the water in the pani puri can cause stomach upsets.
This Indian street food item is the South Asian version of a potato croquette. Aloo tikki is made by mashing boiled potatoes which are mixed with coriander, onions, and special spices. They are then shaped into patties.
These patties are deep-fried to create a crispy outer layer while still remaining melt-in-your-mouth-soft on the inside. These potato cutlets are served with mint or tamarind chutney, yogurt sauce, or Maggi ketchup which is a South Asian staple.
You can find aloo tikki mostly in Delhi, although you will see them in other parts of India as well.
Jhal muri is a popular street food of Kolkata. This is the perfect on-the-go snack, which are easily available at almost all the corners of the city.
Jhal Muri is a spicy puffed rice snack with traditional Bengali ingredients like tamarind sauce and vegetables such as onions, tomatoes, and chilies. This dish has a nice balance of sweet, salty, tart, and spicy flavors.
What makes this street food item different from the others is its sharp taste, which is due to the presence of raw mustard oil.
Bhaji, which translates to vegetable, is a combination of many vegetables such as potatoes, cauliflower, peas, and eggplant that are all mashed together and cooked with a signature blend of spices on a huge, piping hot griddle called a tava.
Pav bhaji is served on a pav, or a soft bun, that is sliced in half and toasted on a griddle with a generous amount of salted butter and red chili powder. Pav bhaji is then garnished with more melting butter, chopped onions, cilantro, and lime.
This dish can be found all over India but originates from Mumbai. While not the healthiest option, pav bhaji is surely one of the most delicious.
In India, there are all different types of kebabs available at street food vendors around the nation. In the northern cities like Delhi and Jaipur, some of the most popular kebabs are mutton served with a mint sauce. There are also many types of chicken kebabs served.
Where there are meat kebabs there is also often a vegetarian version available. The most common vegetarian kebab is a paneer kebab, but there are also hara bhara kebabs which are made by blending spinach, peas, and coriander leaves into a flavorful and meat-textured ball.
Chaat is not only the Indian name for "street food" but is also its own entire dish. When people order chaat, they are often ordering papri chaat which is a plate that is piled high with many ingredients. The bottom portion of the plate is filled with papri which are thin pieces of fried dough similar to crisps or chips.
On top of the papri is a pile of other ingredients that varies by region. Usually, the toppings will include boiled chickpeas, potatoes, and bean sprouts all topped with spices and yogurt. Sometimes even mangoes and corn are included.
Papri chaat is usually eaten by scooping up the ingredients with a fork or with the papri on the bottom.
Pakoras are not only served at street food vendors but are also often served in homes and at restaurants as appetizers. Pakoras are delicious fritters that are made by coating mixed vegetables in a spice and chickpea flour batter and then deep-frying.
Pakoras are often served with an array of sauces, or chutneys, of which mint chutney is probably the most popular. During midday, it is common to see office workers on the streets eating pakoras and drinking chai.
Samosas are probably the Indian street food that are the most globally well-known. Just like pakoras, while samosas are served at street food vendors they can also be found in Indian homes and at restaurants as appetizers.
Samosas are fried triangle-shaped pockets that are stuffed with spiced veggies like potatoes, peas, and carrots then deep-fried.
If you are new to Indian street food, then samosas are a great first one to try because they are absolutely delicious and unlikely to cause a stomach upset.
Vada pav is probably the most popular street food in Mumbai and it wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that almost a quarter of the city eats it every morning for breakfast.
Vada pav is similar to aloo tikki, but the potato and spice mixture is fried then served between two pieces of bread like a hamburger. For this reason, vada pav is sometimes referred to as the Indian hamburger and is usually well-liked by western travelers.
Kathi rolls were invented in Kolkata during the period of British colonialism. The origin story on the streets is that the rolls were made to sell to the British who thought that other Indian food was too messy.
To solved this problem, Indian cooks rolled up some delicious ingredients in bread and wrapped the bottom half in a napkin to keep everyone's hands clean.
The flavor profile of a kathi roll is truly unique, with its roti bread exterior containing tender pieces of spiced chicken, lamb, or paneer with additional toppings like scrambled eggs and mixed raw or cooked vegetables.
The final garnish is usually a variety of sauces, a squeeze of lemon or lime, and a sprinkle of chaat masala.
Momos are Tibetan dumplings that are extremely popular snacks in India. In North India, no matter what city you are in you're sure to run into a few momo shops and stands. The closer to the Northeast you are, the better the momos are said to be.
Momos are dumplings that contain various fillings and are served with red hot sauces. The most popular momo filling is mutton, but you can also find veggie versions. Momos usually come boiled, steamed, or fried.
Chole bhature is a street food that is very popular in Punjab and Delhi. This street food is really a hearty and delicious meal that can be ordered at street vendors around the city.
Chole bhature is a chickpea curry that is served alongside bhature which is an unleavened fried flatbread. Because of its delicious flavor and filling qualities, this dish is probably one of the most common breakfast foods in North India besides parathas.
Dosas are a popular South Indian breakfast food that are made from a fermented rice and lentil batter that is poured out into a thin circle on a large griddle. When the dosa is cooked it is then rolled up and served with a variety of sauces including a vegetable-based stew called sambar and coconut cream.
Dosas can be made plain or stuffed with a variety of fillings including a spiced potato mixture, paneer cheese, potatoes, tomatoes, and onions.
A kachori is a popular Indian snack which is a circular fried bread that can be stuffed with many different fillings. In Hindi, the word "kachori" just means fried and there are many different types of kachoris. The most popular versions include dal (or lentil), onion, potato, and more.
This is a popular breakfast food in Rajasthan.
Kulfi is the Indian version of ice cream and is made with full-fat milk for a richer flavor. The joy of slurping on a creamy chilled kulfi on a sunny day is unmatched.
This dessert is usually flavored with either cardamom or saffron. Roadside kulfi is often served in its classic mold or with a decadent topping to create kulfi falooda, a type of ice cream float made with a base of rose syrup sauce, cooked vermicelli noodles, and basil seeds.
Street food in India is relatively safe, very popular, and enjoyed by many.
However, because your stomach may not be used to all the spices and oils and some vendors may not be as clean as others, you must still exercise caution when choosing what to try and where to buy it.
Locals are accustomed to having street food and know where the best stalls are. If the locals are avoiding a particular vendor, you should too. Go to places where you see they are busy, as this assures quick turnover and fresh ingredients.
If you aren't sure which street stalls are the most popular, feel free to ask your hotel staff or guide for advice.
It's also a good idea to check the cleanliness and surroundings of the vendor. If the food is covered, pots or surfaces are clean, and if the food is cooked in front of the customers it's a good sign.
If you want to enjoy fresh fruit juice, stalls vary widely in quality and you need to exercise caution with where you choose to go. Have the vendor press the juice in front of you and steer clear of anything stored in a jug, pre-sliced, or already served in a glass that has been sitting in the heat.
It’s also a good idea to avoid fresh fruit, as these may have been washed with unfiltered or dirty water which will cause a stomach upset.
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