India is a land known for spices and exotic flavors. It’s home to over 30 types of cuisine, with at least 20 unique street foods from each state alone. It would take months or even years to explore India’s cuisine across each state int he country. But the street food in Mumbai is certainly worthy of a good amount of your time.
Mumbai is India’s most cosmopolitan and likely diverse city. This is because Mumbai is known as the commercial capital of India and so many of the largest companies in the country are based here. This means it is also an international city, with different cultures from all over the world represented here. Mumbai is famous for its street food and has stalls all over the city, with lines of hungry hopefuls waiting for their turn. So if you plan to visit Mumbai, here are 5 street foods that you absolutely must try.
Vada Pav: The Indian Burger
The Vada Pav is among the most common street food in Mumbai. While it would seem very simplistic to the naked eye, it is not to be underestimated in flavor. Also known as the Indian ‘burger’, the vada pav consists of a deep-fried seasoned potato ‘vada’ or dumpling (made up of mashed potatoes, finely chopped onions, coriander and green chilies), placed in between a partially halved ‘pav’ (square-shaped bread roll), topped with brown and green chutneys (sauces and seasoning made of different spices, herbs and fruits). The more daring may add a roasted green chili pepper. The softness of the potato, coupled with the crunch of the fried outer layer made of chickpea batter, offers more than one texture for the palate to experience. Couple that with a burst of heat, sweetness and tanginess, as the chutneys mix and spread across your tongue, and you will be met with a festival of flavors.
The Vada Pav was created by Ashok Vaidya, targeting the working class, especially daily-wage workers who needed a filling but affordable meal in between jobs. The vada pav was easy to carry, delicious to eat and affordable to all. Soon enough, lines began forming outside his stall, and orders flooded in faster than he could make and wrap them in newspaper! Now every corner of Mumbai has its own vada pav stall. Over the years there have been modifications and additions to the original recipe, based on the area of the seller as well as personal preferences.
Where to Find Vada Pav in Mumbai
What to ask for: Vada Pav, with choice of chutney (remember to choose the level of heat/spice you prefer)
Fun Tip: Ask for their dry red chili and garlic chutney
The Dream Team: Idli Dosa
Another popular street food in Mumbai is actually two dishes, served together in various combinations. Idli dosa has been a staple of Indian cuisine for over a thousand years. While a lot of Indian foods actually have some foreign influences and even originated elsewhere (like the very popular comfort-go-to khichdi), idli dosa are purely Indian. Both include rice as a base in their batters, but the rest of the ingredients are where idli and dosa differ. When you look at an idli, you see a spaceship-like round rice cake that is roughly as big as the palm of your hand. It is white, savory, soft and served warm. The rest of the batter includes urad dal (black lentil), which contributes to the fluffiness and spongy texture.
Dosa, on the other hand, looks entirely different. Although the dosa shares rice as an integral component, which in this case, contributes to the crunchy texture, there is less urad dal in the mix. What you get is a thinly layered, crispy (and sometimes soft, if you prefer it) savory crepe, usually filled with vegetables, potatoes and other special ingredients, all tossed together with spices. Both idli and dosa are served with sambhar – a thin, delicious lentil soup – and chutney (white coconut chutney and sometimes a reddish-orange garlic chutney). And of courses ghee (clarified butter) is the secret ingredient to top it all off.
Idli dosa are staple breakfast item in India but can be enjoyed at any meal. It is quick-to-make, filling, and satisfying for anyone on-the-go.
Where to Find Idli Dosa in Mumbai
What to ask for: Try a plain Dosa (with no fillings) to start with, and if you feel adventurous, go for a Mysore Masala Dosa. Ask for chutney refills — they’re free!
Fun Tip: Ask for Idli Butter Podi at Cafe Madras.
Chaat can be best described as an experience – the different ingredients mixed together, the textures from hard and soft to wet and dry, the standing at the counter as it is offered in a small areca-leaf-based disposable bowl and finally the sudden explosion on your tongue from all those spices and herbs and the excitement around you as others eat as hungrily. Yes, this is exactly how my guide Tulsi explained chaat to me.
Often a popular choice as an hors d’eouvre at parties, lunches and weddings, I was unsure about chaat as a street food in Mumbai. But I quickly learned that chaat is best consumed fresh at a counter. There is a plethora of combinations, but every type includes the marriage of sweetness, spice, crunch, softness, wetness, dryness, and saltiness. Some common ingredients include mashed potatoes, boiled tomatoes, coriander, onions, or base and either crispy, fried chickpea noodles called sev, or crunchy whole wheat crackers called puri.
- If soggy and crispy could ever go on a date, it’s because of bhelpuri. This chaat is a delightful mix of boiled potatoes, finely chopped raw onions, puffed rice, seasoned with tamarind chutney for some extra tang, a few drops of lime, and topped with a generous sprinkle of sev.
- Aloo tikki chaat is an-other gastronomical adventure. The tikki is a patty made of mashed potatoes, which is then blanketed with plain yoghurt and coriander or dhaniya chutney. The yogurt aids in cooling the system after the bang of flavor it experiences.
- Sev puri, as the name suggests, has a wheat-cracker base. It looks like a canapé, with a well-portioned mix of mashed potato, chopped onions, tamarind, date, coriander and garlic chili chutneys, and a generous dressing of sev on top (and sometimes raw mango slices and pomegranate).
- Pani puri takes taste explosion to another level, with a deep-fried puffed cracker containing mashed potatoes, lentils, chutneys and ‘pani’ (water, which is seasoned with mint, coriander and chilli). Popping one of these in your mouth is like a carnival for your taste buds.
Where to Find Chaat in Mumbai
What to ask for: Ask for medium to low spice level to start with, the turn up the heat as high as you like. Other kinds of chaat include Ragda Patties, Samosa Puri, Papdi Chaat, Dahi Batata Puri. TRY THEM ALL!
The variety of rolls in Mumbai is a vast one. The best known of this street food in Mumbai is the ubiquitous kati roll, brought over from West Bengal. Originally, these paratha rolls contained kebabs roasted on a skewer, drizzled with sauces and spices. But they have evolved over time to include alternative sources of protein, including paneer (cottage cheese) and also vegetarian options.
A variant is the Frankie, a Lebanese inspired pita wrap, with fillings that can include vegetables, paneer, mutton, or chicken, tossed in a heady combination of fresh cilantro, mint chutney and pickled onions. Invented by Amarjit Singh Tibb in 1969 after he visited Beirut and created his own version of the Lebanese delicacy he tried there.
The famous Lebanese Shawarma is no stranger to this city either. With towers of grilled chicken rotating on the spit, meat-eaters salivate waiting for their shawarmas to be assembled in pita bread, with hummus, pickled beet and carrot sticks and a decadent garlic sauce.
Then there are the signature Chicken Irani Rolls and Catholic bakeries known for their mini-hot dog buns, containing chicken shreds and sweet mayonnaise.
Tandoori (Indian BBQ) rolls are the best served hot and fresh and are a famous midnight snacking option post weekend revelry. The brilliant thing about rolls is that they are easy to pack and carry around and they constitute a full meal.
Where to Find Rolls in Mumbai
- Tibb’s Frankie (the original Frankie-makers since 1969) Several Locations tibbsfrankie.com
- Hangla’s (for authentic Kolkata rolls)
- Carter’s Blue (perhaps the best shawarma spot)
- Hearsch Bakery Location
- Bademiya Location
What to ask for: Paneer Bhuna Frankie at Tibb’s, Chicken Shawarma at Carter’s Blue, Butter Chicken Roll at Bade Miyan’s and Fish Keema Roll at Hangla’s
Fun Tip: Order a Thums Up soda to wash it all down
Falooda... a dessert or a drink?
Is Falooda a dessert? Or is it a drink? It’s both!
Falooda is a descendent of its Iranian ancestor faloodeh, and has become an integral part of Mumbai food culture. Made popular by the Mughal Empire, falooda was the favorite ‘jelly-like dessert-drink’ of Emperor Jehangir. You could call this a royal drink as it even looks bejeweled with its many ingredients.
A traditional falooda drink has cold milk, tukmaria (black basil seeds), rose syrup and a sprinkle of nuts on top – also known as the Rose Falooda. Popular versions today include ice cream and fruit toppings as well. Some variants include
- Dry Fruit Falooda: as the name suggests, it has a generous amount of dried fruits in the mix
- Jelly Falooda: flavored jelly with some ice cream, vermicelli and chia seeds
- Mango Falooda: a seasonal delight with mango slices and ice cream
- Rabri and Phirni Falooda: includes two Indian dessert favorites – rabri and phirni)
A sip or rather ‘gulp’ of this beverage is a sweet delight for the senses. The slithery texture of vermicelli coupled with the chewiness of basil seeds goes deliciously with the creaminess of milk and ice cream, and cooling effect of rose syrup. Add fruits and nuts of your choice and the experience is complete! It’s the perfect companion for a hot summer day, and is filling enough to substitute for a meal, if you’re feeling too hot to eat anything.
Where to Find Falooda in Mumbai
What to ask for: Try the signature Kulfi Falooda at Badshah (they also have a Chocolate Falooda worth mentioning!) or the Double Baba Special (with kesar or saffron) at Baba Falooda.
Fun Tip: Shalimar Cool Point is the midnight hub of falooda lovers, in case you have a craving in the wee hours. Don’t forget to ask for a spoon!