Everyone loves a curry, but I worry that due to a widespread fear of the unknown when it comes to Indian food, many of us stay well in the comfort zone holding a luke-warm Korma and not bothering anyone.
It shouldn’t be that way. Indian cuisine is some of the most flavourful, aromatic and diverse out there and it is a travesty to stick with what you know.
With that in mind, Indian street food is very hot right now, and below you will find your one-stop guide to ordering this genre of food. It is important to know that these dishes are some of the humblest to come out of India, often served on roadsides and on carts outside factories to feed the hungry workers.
I think it is safe to say that India is somewhat famous for its drinks. Anyone who has ever been will be able to spot a glass bottle of Thumbs-Up knock off cola a mile away, and that isn’t even to mention that it was the birthplace of the G&T back in the 18th century. Those of you who are a frequent visitors to curry houses might also enjoy a refreshing glass of Mango Lassi to keep the spice-induced pain at bay.
There are so many more traditional drinks out there waiting for us to try and a great place to start, especially when it comes to street food, is a steaming cup of Masala Chai Tea. It is made by brewing regular black tea (bog-standard builder’s) in milk with a range of spices and a little sugar. Each spice mix will depend on the person who makes it, but it is primarily formed using cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, star anise and fennel seeds. It has so much flavour and provides a welcoming creamy warmth to your meal. They will serve it at most Indian restaurants (you might have to ask specially for it mind ), but I particularly enjoy the Chai tea from Zouk Tea Bar as it is served and poured in the traditional kettles which makes it feel authentic AF.
Another drink you should keep your eye out for is Chaas. Don’t go into this drink expecting something sweet and delicious like Lassi or Shikanjvi, because this yoghurt based drink is salty. It is served cold and with a little salt, cumin and mustard seeds. Before you head for the hills, I can tell you that this strange salty little drink is, in fact, delicious and fantastic alongside spicy food. Check it out on the menu of Indian Tiffin Room and give one a go, you won’t regret it I assure you.
Pav & Kati
Everyone loves a bit of naan or a cheeky little chapatti for dipping into a curry and mopping up the sauce. Unleavened bread is India’s thing, but in the days of the Empire we Brits brought over the humble bread roll in the 1840s, and the trend caught on. The ‘Pav’ is the word for a soft, buttery roll and although it has western origins, the Indians have made it their own by filling it with all sorts of delicious things. All these bread-based dishes tend to hail from Maharashtra in the west, home to Mumbai. The most famous bread-based street-food dish would be perhaps the Vada Pav. It is made up of deep-fried mashed potato dumpling served on a roll with chutney and chilli. It is basically India’s answer to a burger, and of course, it is 100 % veggie. They serve them on the Bundobust menu, and a few months back we popped down there to find out how they were made, which you can read all about here.
Other stodgy delights include Pav Bhaji– a simple vegetable curry served with a bread roll on the side. It is a dish that once fed all the factory workers of Mumbai, but you can get one from Indian Tiffin Room. A Kati roll is also a dish which is relatively familiar. In its purest form, it is basically a wrap filled with chicken, paneer or kebab meat. They originate from Kolkata where in the native Bengali tongue it roughly translates to roll. The ones from Ziya Grill on the Curry Mile are always my go to, and they come with chips, so they make the perfect lunchtime treat. While you are there, make sure you get the Cholley Bhature – a masala chickpea curry served with this fantastic oily, puffed up bread- it is to die for.
Chaat can best be described as a savoury snack, and possibly the most famous (and most delicious) genre of Indian street food. Chaat originates from Uttar Pradesh, where the Taj Mahal is, and almost always consists of a base of fried dough with other ingredients. Samosa Chaat is a great place to start, and you will be spoilt for choice of where you can get one here in Manchester, but I must say my personal favourite is from Scene Indian Street Food. Samosa pastry is fried and filled with spiced potato and peas, then topped with chickpeas and drizzled with an assortment of chutneys, and sweet yoghurt. It is topped with sev (you know that crunchy noodley stuff from a Bombay mix) and sweet bursts of pomegranate seeds. Close your eyes while you chow down on this bowl of loveliness, and you will swear you are in Mumbai… just watch out for the cows.
Another one not to miss off the Chaat menu would be the Panipuri. It is translated as “water-bread”, and when you order them, you will see why. They mainly consist of little mouthfuls of pastry which explode with flavour. They are spherical with a bit of hole in the top filled with potato, chickpeas and spices and it comes with liquid to fill them with before you eat- so gobble them up quickly and pop the whole thing in your mouth as you would with sushi to avoid making a mess. Try the ones from the Street Food menu at Mughli– they are precisely what they should be.
A dosa is basically the Indian equivalent of a pancake made from fermented rice. It is much thinner and crispier than its French cousin and is traditionally served with a filling of potatoes, chicken or paneer and a range of chutneys. They originate from South India and are said to have been eaten since the 1st century AD, so they have stood the test of time. You can get hold of them in a few places in town, like Indian Tiffin Room, Bundobust, Sanskruti Restaurant and Akbars, but I have a little soft spot for Dosa Express just off Withington High Street. Sure, it hasn’t got the frills and graces of some of the more swanky Indian street food venues, but authenticity is at its core. It is also pretty close to my home so that certainly gives it some weight, as a rule, I don’t like going further than a mile away from my flat – to keep waddling home to a minimum.
The Dosa Express menu is huge but don’t let that intimidate you- start with a Masala Dosa, and when you are feeling more adventurous try the Onion Rava Paneer Dosa filled with chilli, onion and crispy Indian cheese. Southern Indian food is predominantly vegetarian, but they do have a couple of meat dosas on the menu- and I have to say the one with Mutton Masala is a game changer.