It’s India’s 70th birthday, so I thought I’d take some time to talk about my favorite part of going to India. FOOD. There is absolutely nothing I love doing more in India than eating everything in sight. On average I consume about 6-8 meals a day when I’m there, and I have zero regrets, except maybe that I didn’t eat more. So, here’s a list of my favorite 6 street foods to eat in Mumbai.
1. Pav Bhaji
Ask anyone, pav bhaji is my favorite food of ALL time — in case you didn’t catch on that’s a huge deal in my book. (Side note: I literally don't have a single picture of pav bhaji because I dive face first into my plate as soon as it's in front of me. One of these days I will attempt to remember to take one) When I land in Mumbai, my aunt always has a plate of pav bhaji waiting for me. That is, without fail, the first thing I do when I get home from the airport in India, no matter what time it is. When I went a few weeks ago, I was eating pav bhaji for breakfast at 5:45 am. It’s delicious any time of day, but it’s really considered more of a lunch time or dinner time snack. So, what is pav bhaji? It’s a street food originating in Maharashtra, which is the state in which Mumbai is located. The word pav simply means bread. Make no mistake though, Mumbai pav is incredibly soft and usually soaked in butter. Bhaji, in my opinion, is the star of this dish. It’s a tomato and potato based vegetable curry (for lack of a better word), spiced with classic Indian spices such as red chili powder, garam masala, turmeric and pav bhaji masala. If you’re ever in Mumbai, Sardar and Maruti’s pav bhajis are arguably the best in the area. If you’re in the tri-state area, just find a way to get to Khasiyat on Oak Tree Road in Edison — you won’t be disappointed, I promise.
2. Pani Puri/Gol Guppa
I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t like pani puri, at least no one of Indian descent. Being obsessed with pani puri seems to just be in our genes — and for good reason. I can’t fully explain all of the ingredients or processes that go into making pani puri. But in India, you go up to a street cart and the vendor cracks a little fried crepe ball, stuffs it with potatoes and lentils, adds some spicy mint water, and some sweet chutney and hands you them one at a time. You need to eat it immediately since the fried crepe ball is extremely thin and will break or get soggy if you hold onto it for more than about 30 seconds. This sounds insane if you’ve never tried it, and typing this out made me question many life decisions, but trust me and just try it. In Bombay, my favorite place is Elco Market in Bandra. It started off as a street cart for pani puri and was so popular, they were able to build a two-story restaurant behind it. However, the street cart still stands in front of the restaurant, and I still always order my pani puri there while waiting for my table. New York City has some amazing renditions of pani puri. My favorite being at Moti Mahal Deluxe. They give you the pani puri in shot form with different flavored pani, which is the mint water. Thelewala also does an excellent traditional pani puri.
3. Vada Pav
Vada pav is also a traditional Mumbai/Maharashtra street food. I’ve already told you what pav is, so now for the vada. Vada is basically just spiced mashed potatoes fried into small spheres. Okay, in reality it’s a little more complicated than that, but we’ll leave at this for the sake of simplicity. So you sandwich the vada in between your Mumbai pav and add my favorite part: chutneys. Vada pav traditionally has three chutneys — green chutney, sweet chutney and garlic chutney. The green chutney and garlic chutney (or lasan chutney if you’re trying to sound like the locals) will add a nice kick to your sandwich. The sweet will make it sweeter...obviously. Desi Galli and Masala Times in Manhattan are both amazing places to try vada pav.
Dosa is one of my favorite dishes from the southern region of India. Dosas come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors. Let me tell you, they are all AMAZING. A dosa is often described as an ‘Indian pancake,’ although I personally think it’s more comparable to a crepe. It’s made from a rice batter, cooked on a heated pan, and often served with a potato filling, sambar (lentils), and coconut chutney. Words can’t do this justice, so just go and try it. Saravana Bhavan in Murray Hill has some of my favorite South Indian food on this side of the world. I definitely recommend it!
5. Mumbai Frankie
A Mumbai frankie is very similar to a ‘kati roll.’ Honestly just with better masala. I really don’t know why everything tastes better in India, but it just does. If you want to try a frankie in New York, make your way over to the Kati Roll Co. In Mumbai, make sure to make a pit stop at Tibbs. There’s multiple locations across the city.
If you’re in Mumbai, make sure to always end your meal with paan. It’s one of the city’s signatures dishes. Paan is an areca nut, or sopari, wrapped in a betel leaf. It often has tobacco in it as well. Paan is known for its psychoactive effects, although Mumbaikars often argue that it has health benefits as well. The only place to get authentic paan in New York is Jackson Heights. So if you’re ever in the area, definitely try some. Bollywood has actually made songs over this dish, so you know it’s good.
If you have questions on where to find any of these dishes in specific locations in Mumbai or the tri-state, feel free to drop me an e-mail. Anything to help spread the joy of this incredible food.