It's time for street food, India Edition! This is a country that takes snacking seriously. Hats off to you India! Grades are given in tiffins, the traditional Indian lunch pail.
Pani Puris. My #1 favorite street food in all India. A “poori” or “puri” in India is a type of fried dough that puffs up to create an air pocket in the middle and usually eaten with a meal like dipping bread. Pani puris are small, crispy versions of this about the size of an egg. The pani puri vendor use a thumb to crack a hole in the dome of the pani poori and then fills it to the brim with spiced potatoes, lentils, and tamarind chutney before handing it over on a tiny plastic tray. Then you gingerly pick up the overflowing poori, lean back your head, open your grateful, gaping maw and prepare for an epic taste explosion. Crunching down on an overstuffed pani poori has the tactile pleasure of breaking something delicate like bubble wrap or crème brulee topping, but its better because you’re rewarded with sweet, savory, and salty juices bursting out over your taste buds. It’s really that good. The “dahi puri” version pictured is served on a plate is even better/messier, smothered in yet more toppings of yogurt, cilantro, and godknowswhatelsegomnomnomnomnmnom. 5 tiffins.
Jalebis. Jalebis are a fried batter soaked in a sugar syrup. The best ones have a bright, crispy outer layer (like a French fry does, but crispier) and a warm soft inside that acts as a sugar-delivery sponge. Best eaten fresh and in the morning. 5 tiffins.
Lassis. Lassis are a sweet, thick yogurt beverage sold throughout India. While they are often sold with a fruit flavoring like mango or banana, the most traditional lassis are plain yogurt flavored and come extra thick, often with an added film of extra coagulated yogurt on top (trust us, its yummy). Lassis can be ordered in restaurants but they are best consumed on the street, served in sun baked clay pots that you smash when you’ve finished your drink. Back in the good old days, lassi wallas (vendors or delivery people) would add water to the clay shards in order to reconstitute fresh clay to make new cups. 5 tiffins.
Tandoori. I guess tandoori doesn’t technically count as street food in that it’s not sold from a push-cart, but the hole in the wall joint where we got this lip-smacking meal was just a small step up. A “tandoori” is a type of clay oven used for cooking things at super high temperatures. It’s mostly meat and bread, though we had tandoori broccoli at an upscale place in New Delhi that was to die for. You can use lots of different spices and yogurt marinades to prepare your faire, but a classic “tandoori chicken” comes with a tantalizing rub of paprika, coriander, cumin, cinnamon, and saffron and is served with a cilantro yogurt sauce and raw red onions. It’s a party in your mouth. 5 tiffins for when it’s at its best.
Pav Bhaji. Born of Portuguese influence, is a spicy, saucy preparation of mixed vegetables, usually containing eggplant, from the streets of Mumbai. The vegetables are minced up and cooked down until almost soupy. It’s served with warm, cloud-like white rolls brushed with ghee (butter) and ready to sop up the oily, bubbly, tasty mess. 3.5 tiffins.
Masala Chai. (aka “milk tea”, and “chai”) is the classic Indian beverage made from boiled black tea with milk, sugar, and a mix of signature spices including cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, clove, and black pepper. Its intensely sweet but very comforting on a cold morning. Often you’ll find it sold in shot-glass sized cups along the street for about 5 rupees. It looks like milky tea in a small cup. 3.5 tiffins.
Khulfi. Khulfi is a frozen dairy dessert served in Northern India. The quality varies widely; when we had it in Mumbai it was like eating a heavenly caramel ice cream, when we had it in Jaipur it was like a frozen, coagulated butter on a stick. 1-5 tiffins, depending on quality.
Falooda. A dessert beverage made by mixing rose water with vermicelli, basil seeds, jellies, and tapioca pearls, often with ice cream or milk. There are tons of different variations and additives. It’s colorful, syrupy, and walks the line between a milkshake and a boba tea. We’ve also sampled very similar iced desserts like halo-halo in the Philippines and ice kacang in Malaysia. They’re decent tasting but overly sweet, and our American taste preferences aren’t totally enamored with wiggly stuff in our drinks. 2.5 tiffins, but as a kid we likely would have loved ‘em.
Bhel puri. A savory Indian snack made of puffed rice, fried besan flour noodles, vegetables (potato, onions, etc.), cilantro, and various condiments such as yogurt and tamarind chutney. It’s a very catch-all dish, but like most good savory Indian snacks it has something light and crispy that’s then covered with a deluge of sauce and toppings that vary widely by style and preference. 3.5 tiffins.