“Bambai chalti do cheezon par hai … ek luck, doosri local.”
The line from Once Upon A Time In Mumbai Dobaara (2013) struck a chord with every Mumbaikar. But as they’d agree and you would too, there is a third lifeline on which the city runs — street food.
No feeling in the world can compare to the one of seeing your plate of puris drenched in spicy tamarind chutney, sensing the crunchiness of a daabeli in every bite, or the elation at having the second pani puri as you’re getting done with the first.
And if chaat isn’t on your mind, then there are the fried snacks; spicy samosas that have come alive in the boiling oil, and battered vadas that are awaiting their turn. Mumbai and its street food are an unparalleled experience that you need to experience to believe.
And history says we need to thank the Moghuls for this legacy.
A tradition that’s come down the ages
In the Moghul era, the people believed in caravanserai also called the khan. These caravanserais were set up in cities as a stop for travellers who were too weary to walk anymore. It offered them respite and nutrition.
Lines of carts were aligned on the streets, each showing off a delicious delight that satisfied two criteria — nutrition and minimum preparation time.
The story goes that the street food vendors of today, are carrying forward the legacy, albeit with more variety.
And that’s where we come in.
With abundant shops and stalls and every place claiming to sell the ‘best in the world’, where do you go?
Well, for someone who lives in the city, we’d say, try them all! But for those who are looking for something more specific, we caught up with corporate lawyer by day and food blogger by night, Jagruti Punjabi.
Since 2013, Jagruti has been exploring the street food of the city, tasting everything and putting out recommendations for her followers. This ‘Best Food blogger’ by WhatsHotMumbai, and five times nominee for a best blogger for Food Blogger Association of India (FBAI) Awards, recounts an incident where she was in Hyderabad for three years as part of work. Jagruti says, “I went to have pani puri (which was dismal). Once I was done I asked the bhaiya for sukha puri and pat came his reply: “All that you don’t get here!”
“That’s when I decided that it was time to go back to the bay.”
Your bucket list for Mumbai
Jagruti isn’t the only one who believes street food in Mumbai is the best in the world. Ask any Mumbaikar their thoughts and they will tell you exactly why. So, for everyone who’s looking to try something new, or taste the ‘best’, here are Jagruti’s recommendations.
The city hasn’t always been known for its momos, since Northern India takes the cake in this category. But, Suraj Lama momos in Mumbai changes this notion.
The momo stall in Andheri, run by Suraj Lama, sees crowds queuing up just to get a portion of the deliciously prepared dumplings with their all too famous sauce. And as his regulars say, these are ‘a surprise to eat as they are so delicious’, and ‘lip smacking’.
Where: 7 Bungalows, Andheri West
Cost: Rs 70/plate
The humble man’s food, Mumbai’s pride and a must-have in this city – batata vada is a street food delight. It is tough to have a recommendation for the batata vada as you’ll agree each stall and cart and shop have its own special tinge that sets the vadas apart.
However, Jagruti suggests trying the ones at Ladu Samrat in Parel. So crispy and heavenly are the vadas here that even London food writer Nigella Lawson tried them when she came to Mumbai and described them as the ‘best thing I have eaten in 2017’.
Where: Shop No 1 Habib Terrace Lalbaug, Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar Rd, Ganesh Gully, Parel, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400012.
Cost: Rs 15/ vada
Chicken Kheema Pattice
The food blogger calls the chicken kheema pattice by Prabhat Poultry in Dadar, ‘succulent’. The store sells both cold cuts, as well as certain ready-to-eat snacks and sees many from the area, as well as those who come from near and far just to get a bite of the pattice.
Where: 14, Sushil, Near Mayor Bungalow, Veer Sawarkar Marg, Shivaji Park, Dadar West, Mumbai, Maharashtra 400028.
Cost: Rs 80/2 pieces
Take two crustless slices of bread. Evenly coat them with green chutney and a good dollop of butter. Between the two, add a mix of boiled potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber, beets, and onion and here’s the magic: a blend of spices such as cumin, fennel, black pepper cinnamon and chaat masala! Voila! You have the Bombay sandwich.
And for this, she recommends an entire Mumbai street.
Where: Jamnalal Bajaj Marg, Nariman Point, Mumbai – 400021, Near Maker Chamber
Cost: Rs 40/sandwich
Many have often wondered how the vada pav came to be so synonymous with Mumbai. The story goes that in 1970, one man set up his stall outside the famous Dadar station Platform 1, where he would sell batata vada for a few paise. One day, he decided to take things up a notch and slipped the battered ball of potato into a pav. But he wasn’t satisfied and put in a green chilli along with red chutney.
Thus was born the vada pav as we know it today. Jagruti recommends trying the one at Vile Parle’s Mithibai College vada pav, if you want to get a taste of the true snack.
Where: Anand Stall, Opposite Mithibai College, Gulmohar Road 1, Vile Parle West, Mumbai
Cost: Rs 20/vada pav
“Sev puri and sukha bhel at Gupta Chaat in Matunga is to die for,” reads one review. Jagruti agrees. She says the chaat here is one of her very topmost go-to places when she is looking to spice up her evening snack.
For Mumbaikars, sev puri is an emotion in itself. The array of puris arranged on a paper plate with their little toppings of heaven, not only saves the day but goes with any weather too.
So loved is chaat by all that even the New York Times wrote a feature on people who leave Mumbai to go to foreign shores and how they recall every bite with feelings of nostalgia.
True to this sentiment, every Mumbaikar, wherever they may be, will order a plate of puris or bite the crispy edge of a samosa and be transported back to the memory of the city they call home.
Mumbai Street Food: Vital Food, Published by Govt of India.
When politics and street food gave birth to Mumbai’s favourite snack by Saira Menezes, Published on 30 March 2017.
Edited by Yoshita Rao
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