Unlike most other Indian cities that start snoozing as early as 8 pm, Mumbai buzzes around the clock. Food carts appear every few yards serving chaats (Indian street snacks), and even the simplest food is transformed into something impressive. The choices are enormous—there are hot, spicy vegetable sandwiches, slices of green mango peppered with masala, sizzling kebabs, Chinese noodles with vegetables, fresh strawberry milk shakes, carrot juice, kulfi(cream-based Indian ice cream), fresh-sliced mango with creamed, spicy boiled chickpeas, fried fish, potato turnovers, masala peanuts, coconut water, green-chilli omelets in buns, and an almost endless array of exotic snacks associated with Mumbai.
Much of this snack food is created right at the side of the road on open grills and stoves and then assembled in front of you. As you would imagine, the hygiene is often a little suspect, but don't dare avoid it, or you may miss out on some of the best available street food on our planet. If you sample any of these street-side treats, follow some rules. Try food served hot on the spot. Avoid cold and room temperature sauces ("dry chutney" is often a helpful code for "no sauce" when ordering sandwiches like vada pav), and try to avoiding heavy dustings of herbs, such as coriander. If the plates don't look clean, or are dripping wet with unfiltered water, ask that food be either served or packed in a disposable container (a fresh plastic bag, a cup created from leaves, a paper plate, or newspaper) or bring your own container. Carry your own spoon and paper or plastic cup, if you want. And don't worry—the vendors usually understand enough English to see the process through. Finally, those vendors who attract the biggest crowds and fame are likely to be safer than those who are ignored.
Mumbai's Street-Food Classics
- Bhel puri: Puffed rice tossed with cubes of boiled potatoes, slices of tomatoes, peanuts, tamarind sauce, chopped onion, and sev (a savory, deep-fried treat made of chickpea flour).
- Dahi puri: Tiny, flat, white-flour puris (deep-fried bread) layered with boiled potatoes, three types of chutney made from tamarind, dates, and coriander leaves (cilantro), plus mung-bean sprouts and topped with curd and chopped cilantro leaves.
- Sev puri: The same white-flour puris, or crackers, layered with boiled potatoes, three types of chutney made from tamarind, dates, and cilantro.
- Pani puri: Deep-fried, globular puris, also known as golgappas, that have been cracked open and filled with date water, tamarind sauce, mung-bean sprouts, and potatoes.
- Ragda pattice: Spiced and mashed potatoes shaped into cutlets and fried on a griddle. These are served with hot white-pea curry and a few sauces.
- Dahi bada: Large flat dumplings of white lentils, which are deep-fried to make badas, and are then dipped in water to soak out the oil. The badas are broken into pieces and served spiced with a variety of masala powders, tamarind sauce, cilantro chutney, and yogurt.
- Pav bhaji: Mashed potatoes that are fried on a hot griddle for an hour with peas, tomatoes, and butter—until it's become a juicy, spicy, potato mash. It's then served with sliced onions, lemons, and butter-fried buns called pavs.
- Vada (or wada) pav: A cutlet made of mashed potatoes, spice, cilantro, and ginger that's coated in chickpea flour and deep fried—which is then stuffed into a pav lined with hot garlic and red-chilli chutney.
- Aanda pav: A spicy omelet made with chillies, onions, masala, and a bunch of spices, which is then fried and slapped into a pav.
- Baida roti: Minced meat mixed with beaten egg is wrapped in white-flour dough that's been tossed by hand into thin sheets; the square, layered pancake is then fried on a hot griddle with oil.
- Bheja fry: Spicy red masala and tomatoes fried with goat brains—it's really tasty!
- Boti roll: Spicy pieces of grilled lamb kebab, chutney, and sliced onions rolled into a roomali roti (a thin, hand-tossed, and roasted white-flour pita).
- Sheekh kababs: Minced, spiced lamb cooked on a skewer barbecue-style and served with chutney.
- Chicken tikka: Marinated chicken pieces that have been roasted on an open-air barbecue and are served with chutney.
- Mutton or chicken biryani: Long-grained basmati rice simmered with spice and mutton or chicken for many hours.
- Masala dosa: A lentil- and rice-flour pancake fried on a griddle with plenty of ghee (clarified butter) and stuffed with a spicy potato mixture.
Where Is It Served?
Bade Miya , next to Gokul Bar on Tullock Road, off Shahid Bhagat Singh Road (enter the lane next to Café Mondegar and take the next right) is an open-air stall that has been supplying hungry Mumbaikars with kebabs and baida (white-flour) rotis for more than 50 years; they're open through the night until the early morning. Also check out the Elco food stalls and the Elco Restaurant in Bandra.
Head to Kailash Parbat or Swati Snacks to sample bhel puris and sev puris. Also visit Shiv Shankar Tiwari's Dahi Puri stall on B. Road (aka Karmveer Pandit Shobhnath Mishra Marg) off Marine Drive, next to the InterContinental hotel.
And if you’re near Churchgate Station at night, ask around for the omelet pav man, as his stand doesn't have a name. He makes the best aanda pav in town; he starts in the evening and is open into the wee hours of the morning.