No Indian street food journey is complete without kebabs. Literally meaning “to roast”, kebabs are believed to have originated in Turkey, when soldiers used to skew chunks of freshly hunted animals onto their swords and grill them over open fires. This army cooking technique transitioned into grilling marinated meats in a tandoor oven, a technique still used in Indian street food.
A tandoor is a clay oven, that resembles a large clay pit with a fire burning inside. The heat created by the wood charcoal is managed with the help of a small door, that is opened and closed to control oxygen flow. In such an environment, cooking temperatures can reach more than 600 degrees Fahrenheit.
One of the few Indian street food fare to become so popular across the world, there are countless varieties of kebabs:
- Shish Kebab: Using spices like sumac, oregani, red ppepper flakes and mint, meats (lamb, chicken, beef, mutton) are pounded and minced around a metal rod. This rod of emat is roasted or grilled over an open flame. Wood or charcoal also contributes to the taste.
- Beyti Kebab: Found in larger Turkish cities, lamb or beef is served with in a lavish, an edible vessel made of dough. This is topped with yoghurt and tomato sauce.
- Shami Kebab: Served in Hyderabad, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Kashmir and Sindh, these kebabs are made of minced beef, mutton or lamb. Eggs, spices and chickpeas are also added.
My favorite Indian street food when I am anywhere near anything Indian are paneer kebabs. Who said there are no vegetarian kebabs? 🙂
~Paneer ka Soola (Paneer Kebabs)
The marinade is prepared using ginger-garlic paste, red chili powder, cloves, cumin powder, garam masala powder, yoghurt and mustard oil. Paneer or cottage cheese is sliced into thick cubes. Together with diced green bell peppers, the paneer cubes are soaked in the marinade. The peppers and paneer cubes are then placed on skewers and cooked in a tandoor oven. (And as I am describing paneer ka soola, I am already craving this Indian street food!)
Once you start, you truly cannot stop eating samosas. One of the world’s most beloved Indian street food, the samosas have a long history behind them. For many centuries, samosas traveled through different countries, their savory goodness carried by traders and travelers. From Egypt to Libya, and from Central Asia to India, the samosas were called by many names- samsa, sambusak, and sambosag.
In India, the great Sufi poet Amir Khusro was one of the first to observe the popularity of the samosa in the Delhi Sultanate. The famous 14th century Moroccan explorer, Ibn Battuta also mentions samosas in his writings about his time at the court of Muhammad bin Tuhluq. He describes them as small pies stuffed with spicy minced meat, pistachios, almonds and walnuts. They were always served with pulao or fragrant spice flavored rice. These guys clearly had an eye for Indian street food!
When the Portuguese landed in India, they brought with them a type of tuber, which they called batata. Today, we know the batata as the humble potato, and it has revolutionized home cooking, fine dining and Indian street food. The modern Indian samosa is now a vegetarian- friendly combination of mashed potatoes, green peas, onions, green chilies and spies. The ingredients are stuffed into a dough package and deep fried. Samosas are commonly enjoyed with a chutney (sweet or spicy), ketchup or eaten alone.
Other variations of this Indian street food favorite include:
- Kazakhstan: A samsa is made of minced lamb, onions, and sometimes pumpkin, stuffed into a thick dough and baked.
- Hyderabad, India: Known as the Hyderabadi lugmi, the samosa is completely filled with meat and the dough is more crispier.
- Middle East: The sambusak consists of onions, feta cheese, minced chicken, meats, spinach and chickpeas.
- South India: The samosa filling is made of cabbage, carrots, onions and curry leaves.
At any time of the day, you will find people crowded around gol gappe stands. A common vegetarian Indian street food in India, gol gappe goes by many names: gup chup, fulki, pakodi and pani puri.
Gol Gappe consist of round hollow fried puris filled with ginger-chili water, tamarind chutney, chaat masala, potatoes, onions and chickpeas. Grab a puri, pop a hole in it, fill it with the mentioned condiments, and drop it into your mouth. As the puri bursts, there is such an explosion of flavors! I find this Indian street food staple simply exhilarating! No wonder… “once you pop, you can’t stop”.
This mouth-watering and super spicy Indian street food is my Achilles’ heel. Coming from Punjabi kitchens in north-western India, Chole Batura went from being a Punjabi breakfast dish to one of India’s most popular vegetarian Indian street food. It epitomizes everything Punjabi; flavors that carry lots of savory punch, and generous indulgence that is definitely not for the weight-conscious!
The batura is a leavened flat bread made from maida or whole wheat flour. It is deep fried till it attains a golden brown hue.
The chole is a spicy curry made primarily with chickpeas. Chopped onions, garlic and ginger are sauteed with bay leaves, cinnamon, cumin seeds, green chilies, cloves, and peppercorns. Spice powders include turmeric, red chili, coriander and asafetida. Chickpeas or chole, soaked overnight and pressure cooked, are added along with diced tomatoes. When cooked into a nice, fragrant gravy, the curry is served with hot baturas, with plenty of butter.
A humble quick meal for the Indian textile workers in the 1850s, Pav Bhaji now constitutes staple vegetarian Indian street food in India. During the American Civil War, there was a high demand for cotton. Every night, new rates for cotton were telegrammed to the Bombay Cotton Exchange in Maharashtra. This meant that textile workers would work late and often not return home in time for dinner. Making use of the opportunity, street vendors collected leftover bread and mashed it together with vegetables. This midnight meal for the workers was buttered pav (Portuguese word for “bread”) with bhaji (Marathi word for “vegetables”).
The pav is made toasting soft bread rolls with ghee (clarified butter). The curry is made of boiled vegetables that can vary seasonally, but generally consist of potatoes, tomatoes, green bell peppers, cauliflowers, peas and carrots. The trademark rich red-orange color comes from frying the vegetable gravy with turmeric, red chili powder, green chilies, cumin seeds, cardamon, black peppercorns and amchur (mango) powder. Eaten with raw onions, lime and lots of butter, Pav Bhaji is one spicy Indian street food that makes my mouth water even thinking about it.
When people think of vegetarian Indian street food, they immediately think of gol gappe, chaat, hot jalebis and fried paneer. The humble dosa draws its origins from South India, and has today become one of the nation’s best loved Indian street food. No dhaba, no diner, no eatery is complete without the dosa. You can open a stall anywhere and if you are serving dosa, people will hound you. That’s the power of the dosa, and I too am victim to its spell.
Dosa is prepared from a fermented batter of rice and black gram. Water is added to achieve the desired thickness, and the batter is ladled onto a hot tava (gridle) greased with ghee (clarified butter). It is spread out to form a pancake or crepe. Once the dosa batter turns a golden brown hue and is crispy, it is presented folded or in a wrap. Dosa is served with chutneys based in coconut or mint-coriander, spicy mashed potatoes and sambar (vegetable-based lentil soup).
There are a number of dosas, many of which I love dearly and you can see featured in my other culinary adventures in this blog. They include:
- Masala Dosa
- Spring Dosa
- Onion Rava Dosa
- Pesarattu or Green Dosa
- Cone Dosa (picture below)
One of Gujarat’s greatest contributions to the vegetarian Indian street food scene is the Dhokla. An instant hit with everyone including myself, dhoklas are usually eaten at breakfast or as a snack. But I can eat dhoklas throughout the day non-stop 🙂
In order to make the dhokla, a precise ratio of rice and chickpeas are soaked overnight. This mixture is ground, and the paste is fermented for another 4-5 hours. Then spices such as chili and coriander are added into the fermented batter along with baking soda. The batter is now steamed, after which it is cut into pieces. These chopped pieces are seasoned in hot oil with mustard seeds, green chilies, and a little sugar. Dhoklas are usually garnished with fresh coriander leaves and grated coconut, and are served with green chilies and coriander chutney.
Many types of dhokla can be found on a Indian street food adventure:
- Khandavi Dhokla
- Khatta Dhokla
- Sandwich Dhokla
- Meetha Dhokla
The classic vada is the Indian street food version of the doughnut, only more crispier, crunchier, and yummier. Vadas are made from legumes such as chickpea, black gram and green gram. The legumes are ground into a batter and soaked in water. This batter is seasoned with spices such as cumin, chilies, black pepper, as well as onions and curry leaves. The mixture is shaped into a round ball and deep-fried.
Vadas taste best when freshly fried and hot. While I enjoy this vegetarian Indian street food as they are, I find it best to tear off chunks and dip them into chutneys and sambar (vegetable lentil soup). In fact, vadas are traditionally served with sambar, dry and wet chutneys, as well as yoghurt. You must all try it!
The Indian street food scene is home to many varieties of the vada:
- Medu Vada: Pictured below, this vada made from urad dal is the most common type of vada in South India.
- Rava Vada: Made from semolina.
- Dahi Vada: Vadas are soaked in yoghurt and garnished with chaat masala, boondi, fresh cilantro and other spices.
- Sabudana Vada: Made from sago, this vada is popular with Hindus on fasting days.
- Batata Vada: Made from potatoes, this vada is served with chutney and a bread bun.
There’s no better way to start the day than with a super heavy breakfast of parathas! Parathas are one of the most popular unleavened flatbreads in the Indian subcontinent. More of a Indian homemade breakfast or tea-time snack than your typical Indian street food, parathas can be found hot and ready to eat at many a street vendor.
Parathas are made by baking in an oven, or by cooking whole wheat dough on a tava (gridle) and then shallow frying. Similar to the folding technique used in puff pastries, the dough is folded repeatedly and layered with ghee (clarified butter). Parathas are usually served with pickles, chutney, curries, dahi (yoghurt) or raita (yoghurt with condiments).
There are many variations to this Indian street food. Some different types of parathas include:
- Mung Bean Paratha: This Rajasthani special mixes mung dal (lentils) into the dough.
- Aloo ka Paratha: The most common type of paratha, spicy mashed potatoes are used as stuffing.
- Gobi Paratha: Stuffed with flavored cauliflower (picture below).
- Lasuni Paratha: Garlic flavored paratha.
- Paneer Paratha: The stuffing is made of cottage cheese (paneer).
The ultimate Shenanshah or “King of Kings” of Indian street food, chaat represents the fantasies and desires of your taste buds- something sweet, something sour, a little bit of crunch here and a tanginess there. Chaat symbolizes cravings and the streets of India are testimony to that.
Irrespective of the type of chaat, every chaat recipe features the following:
- Dahi (curd/ yoghurt)
- Cilantro-mint and tamarind chutneys (tangy sauces)
- Diced raw onions and tomatoes
- Boiled potatoes
- Chaat masala: comprises of amchur (mango) powder, finely ground black pepper, ajwain (carom) seeds, ginger, asafetida and mint.
Three of my favorite vegetarian Indian street food chaat snacks are:
~ Dahi Papdi Chaat
My absolute go-to chaat when I am craving Indian street food. Made primarily of fried or baked flour crackers known as papdis, the vegetarian snack also includes boiled potatoes and steam sprouted moong beans. Chopped onions and tomatoes are added in raw, along with coriander leaves. Finally, condiments such as red chili powder, cumin powder and chaat masala are added, and all the ingredients are stirred together with a generous serving of yoghurt.
~ Palak Chaat
Besan or gram flour is mixed with turmeric, asafetida, red chili powder and ajwain (carom seeds). Water is added to this mix to make a fine batter. Spinach leaves are coated with this batter and deep fried to form spinach fritters. The fritters are garnished with finely chopped onions, sweetened yoghurt, coriander leaves and chaat masala. Who says vegetarian Indian street food cannot be absolutely delicious?
Originally from Mumbai’s famous Chowpatty and Juhu areas, this Indian street food chaat creates a mouthwatering balance between sweet, tangy and spicy flavors. Bhelpuri is made from puffed rice and sev (thin fried noodles from besan flour). This is mixed together with chaat masala, potatoes, onions, tamarind chutney, coriander-mint chutney, and garnished with fresh coriander leaves. Delicious!