The Unsung Street Foods of India

The past week has been eventful to say the least – hubby and I decided to span the distance between Leh and Bangalore by car, toddler and all. I don’t know about others, but for me a major incentive to embark on such road trips is the munchies you get along the way. Not the highway McDonalds, silly! I’m talking about the lip smacking, mouthwatering, finger-lick inspiring goodies that the ubiquitous thelas and redis of India have to offer.  A true-blue foodie can never have enough of chaats, samosas and tikkis  (never mind the calorie count) but there are several varieties of Indian street foods that may not be “mainstream” so to speak, but deserve an applause nonetheless .  
So this trip, like all others, was generously punctuated with “snack breaks”, which translated into a week-long street food fest across the length of the country. It gives me great pleasure to share with you some lesser-known gems that I discovered along the way. Take my word for it – these can stand up in stiff competition to the chhole bhatures and vada-pavs of the world!
Kalari, Jammu and Kashmir: Got to thank the shepherds of the Kashmir Valley for this glorious invention. Essentially a dried up ball of fermented milk, Kalari tastes like the love child of cheese and paneer, deriving its sharpness from the former and creamy softness from the latter. Watch the vendor toss it on a pan where it will fry itself in its own fat. Yes, it is that sinful. When it turns crisp and golden, tuck it between two slices of bread and sink your teeth in. Ketchup and chaat masala are optional.
Kale Chane ka Soup, Patiala: Street food can be packed with health and goodness. No, seriously. Ask the large-hearted Patialvis who love to sip on piping hot chane ka soup, especially when the weather gets nippy. Letting the boiled chanas (black grams) roll down the glass onto your tongue in the end is part of the fun.
Dhabeli, Ahmedabad: Call this the vada-pav’s spunkier cousin. With a thick layer of spicy “masala” stuffed into a pav, this one delivers extra punch with a sprinkling of roasted peanuts and some pomegranate to cut the heat. The combination of sweet and spicy chutneys will make you sweat and splutter, but you will only find yourself digging into this mélange of flavors with increased gusto.
Mirchi Bhajji, Hyderabad: Anything that is fresh out of a wok-full of oil can’t be all that bad, can it? The Hyderabadi mirchi bhaji is a classic favorite with anyone looking for a perky little snack. Pungent peppers dipped in a gram-flour batter and deep fried to crispy perfectness, Mirchi Bhajji is the go-to snack during the monsoons and beyond.
Jhal Muri, Kolkatta: Crunchy puffed rice poses as a perfect canvas for the heady aroma of mustard oil to come together with a cocktail of onions, sev, chopped chillies and peanuts. Traditionally served in a newspaper cone, jhal muri may look like bhelpuri, but is vastly different from it in taste and flavor.
Anda Ghotala, Baroda: I had sampled Anda Ghotala for the first time outside Baroda’s railway station and trust me, the dish is as much fun as its name. A super-spicy and butter-oozing version of scrambled eggs, this one is best had with toasted slices of bread or parathas.
Poha-Jalebi, Indore: The highways of MP may not have too many eateries to boast of, but you will always find an amicable little dhaaba serving up fluffy kanda (onion) poha, juicy jalebis and garma-garam chai. Poha (flattened rice ) makes for a popular breakfast all over north India but the Indore version is unique in that it is somehow married to the jalebi – the only way to comprehend this implausible  combination is to try it out. A generous sprinkling of sev on top adds some chutzpah to this simple, unpretentious dish.
Kothu Parotta, Chennai:  Now, I can’t claim that I have tried this out but the sheer description of the dish convinced me that it deserves an honorable mention on this list. A scramble of crumbled parotta, eggs, veggies, spices and curry leaves served hot on a banana leaf – what’s not to love!
Tamatar Ki Chaat, Banaras: Many may like to contend it, but Benaras IS the original motherland of the chaat. Tamatar Chaat (which is unique to the bylanes of Banaras) is a class apart when compared to “chaat” as we know it. Sweet, spicy, tangy, sour – Tamatar Chaat is a bursting potpourri of flavors that literally dance on your tongue. The only challenge is to find a place that serves up hepatitis-free versions.
Ras Omelet, Goa: This sumptuous road-side delight is essentially an omelet dunked in coconut-based chicken or mutton gravy, which is supposed to be mopped up with pao (bread). Initially meant to be an economical road-side meal for the locals, the Ras Omlet is now finding a place for itself in upscale restaurant menus as well.
Do you have any street food treasures to share? Do write in!
September 16, 2015 by Shuchi Singh Kalra

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