Get your stomach in the game
Mumbai’s Street Food Must-Eats
8 April 2019 by Kiera Greenwood
Loud. Crowded. Colourful. Alive. Mumbai has an infectious energy about it that nobody can deny. Ok, so “delicious” may not be a word so instantly synonymous with its front door to India status, we mean your mouth doesn’t water upon the mere mention of “Mumbai”, but you try stopping the drool after reading this blog. Seriously, I had to run out for a very inauthentic supermarket samosa after writing it up (both soggy and cold, the disappointment was real). Luckily for me, I’ll be in Mumbai doing some first-hand research myself at the end of the month, so will be able to satisfy my now insatiable desire for the real, street-food deal. Sorry, I can’t help but be a bit smug. The gloating stops there, promise.
Thinking of heading to the city that never sleeps yourself some time soon? Well, it’s not surprising, its colonial history has long drawn discerning travellers and the opening of the brand spanking new Soho House Mumbai has just confirmed this lively city’s place on the world’s 2019 ‘cool list’. But it would practically be a crime to visit and only hop from fancy restaurant to classy bar – of which there are many to accommodate all of the Bollywood Stars that reside here – this is a million miles per hour city that is fuelled by its street food and it’s good. Very, very good. So, we’ve sifted the best from the rest to bring you a real taste of ‘the door to India’. Say hello to Mumbai’s street-food must-eats.
A.K.A. the ultimate Indian veggie burger. Winning the people’s choice award hands down, Vada Pav is just one of life’s many necessities as far as Mumbaikars are concerned. But what exactly is it? Well break it down and you’ve got pav, meaning a fluffy white bread roll, encasing a crispy vada (a concoction of mashed potato, masala spices, green chilli and onion, shaped into patties, dipped in chickpea batter and swiftly fried). Completed by a generous helping of green chilli-coriander chutney, this street-food sandwich makes for a fiery hit that will, on average, set you back less than 50 pence. No wonder over two million are sold every day. This is a local dish that, quite literally, sells like hot cakes.
From one city favourite to another, pav bhaji is to be thanked for making Mumbai the industrial hub that it is today. Once a late-night concoction of leftovers that was born out of a necessity to feed the masses of workers that would flood the streets upon end of play, Pav Bhaji is now a staple of any street food vendor’s menu. Recipes will vary, but this is a dish that largely consists of a number of spices mashed up with tomatoes and potatoes and all mopped up with a soft, buttered barm. And with a big dollop of butter oozing its rich goodness in the middle of the dish too, this curry is heartwarming (if not heart stopping) to say the least. Traditionally, a pav bhaji will be served up to you in a tray and will often come with a side of raw onion salad – think school dinners, Mumbai style.
Both light and refreshing, this chaat dish is best found on Mumbai’s beaches. A base of puffed rice and crunchy noodles is tossed with spiced potatoes, onions, tomatoes and a variety of chutneys that bring a combination of sweet, spicy and sour flavours to the plate. Perfect for anyone who wants to get stuck into Mumbai’s street-food offerings whilst remaining health conscious.
Pani puri vendors are easy to spot, their produce lies in wait for the orders of the day to come rolling in. Think hollow pastry spheres piled high (the puri) that will be pierced and freshly filled with diced potatoes, onions, chickpeas and spiced water (the pani) when you arrive at the counter. Our top tip? Eat them whole to avoid any mess and best savour the burst of flavour.
N.B. This dish contains water, so for obvious reasons do your research before heading out to try some. The pani puri counter at Elco Pani Puri Centre is known to be a safe bet as they use mineral water, but if you know that you have a sensitive stomach, it may be better to be safe than sorry with this dish.
Ah, now this is a classic that we all know and love. The humble samosa. Mostly vegetarian, Mumbai’s tried and tested variation largely comes baked or fried and stuffed with a savoury helping of potatoes, onions, peas and lentils.
A word to the wise
India is incredible, very few people could find a reason to disagree, but there’s also no denying that the western digestive system often has some trouble adjusting to this country’s flavours. Here are our top tips to help avoid the dreaded Delhi Belly:
1. Go veggie
For the majority of millenials that shouldn’t be too much of an issue – veganism has definitely seen a strong surge in numbers over the past few years – but for those who’s staple diet is meat and two veg, this may seem nigh on impossible. The good news? India is largely a vegetarian nation anyway, so by giving up your carnivore ways, you won’t be missing out on much and you’ll be strengthening your chances of avoiding any tummy upset.
2. Follow the crowds
Not only will doing as the locals do lead you to the best food finds, but it’s also likely to take you to the places that are the safest bet to eat at. If a stall doesn’t have a queue whilst it’s neighbour does, there’s probably a reason.
3. Wash those mitts
Washing your hands before dinner is something that we all may forget to do once in a while, but if you remember anything in India, make sure that it’s hand sanitiser – and that you make good use of it, of course. You’ll often be eating with your hands and bathrooms won’t always have soap.
4. Watch out for water
And we’re talking in all forms. You know not to drink tap water, but the same goes for ice, salad (that will have been washed in water) and meals that contain any kind of broth.
5. Always be prepared
...it’s better to be safe than sorry. Imodium and electrolytes are always a good go to – hopefully you won’t have to use them, but you know, just in case.