Street Food Guide for Your First Trip to India

Food is the soul of India. Indians love eating and more than that, we love to express our affection by feeding. 

My love affair with Indian street food began just when I started traveling on my own over a decade ago. It was budget-friendly and, as a solo traveler, the smaller portions made it possible for me to try more things.

What I also found fascinating was the stories behind these foods like the food in the northern state of Rajasthan tends to be spicier owing to the scarcity of water and less fertile land (Rajasthan is home to Thar desert). Such stories bring a place to live and become an important element of understanding a place and its history.

In restaurants across the country, the menu is more or less the same. It’s in the small street-side restaurants and pushcarts that one can find the truly authentic local food. 

Having traveled around India, I got to experience various cuisines that are suited to the local weather and in some places are influenced by the neighboring countries. 

Also Read: 13 Tips for First Time Travel to India

Below is a list of cuisines that I recommend travelers try on their trip to India to experience the variety of offerings. Many of these are unique to India and the Indian subcontinent but even the ones that didn’t originate in Indian are sold in their Indianized versions. 

Must-try street food in India:

1. Momos

Steamed momos in two paper plates with red chutney and two glasses of beverage on a table

Momos are steamed dumplings traditionally made in China, Nepal, Bhutan, and the Indian states close to China – Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, and the northeastern states. 

Steamed or fried, momos come in a variety of fillings. For vegetarians, they range from vegetables to potatoes to cottage cheese. They go best with hot sauce known as momo chutney and were my favorite breakfast in the Indian hill station – Mcleodganj (in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh). The chill of hill stations goes perfectly well with the hotness of the sauce. 

Cost: Rs. 20 – Rs. 50 (for a plate for 6 momos)

Region: Delhi, Himachal Pradesh (in the north), and north-eastern part of India

Main ingredients: All-purpose flour (you can choose between various fillings), chilly, garlic

Serving temperature: Hot

 

2. Maggi

Maggi is not so much street food as it is jugaad food (Jugaad means something put together to come up with a makeshift solution). Often found in homes for those ‘lazy days’, Maggi is also a popular hiking food. No, it’s not healthy at all, it’s just the national comfort food that is supposed to take 2 minutes to cook but takes more like 5-10 minutes. 

Maggi too comes in varieties like plain Maggi, vegetable Maggi, and cheese Maggie. While the packet itself costs Rs. 12 – 15, the ones of hilltops can cost around Rs. 50-60 per plate. 

Cost: Rs. 30 – Rs. 50

Region: Across India outside colleges and hilltops

Main ingredients: Wheat flour

Serving temperature: Hot

 

3. Litti Chokha

Litti is balls of wheat flour with spiced chickpea flour filling, roasted on coal/cow-dung cakes. This is served with Chokha, which is spiced mashed potatoes with charred tomato and eggplant. 

Many villages in India use cow-dung cakes as fuel (including in my ancestral village), litti makes for an easy-to-cook dish on it. It requires no additional dishes, so it can get roasted on grills. Moreover, Bihar’s rich irrigation network allows for the farming of chickpea that requires a lot of water. 

The wheat balls are traditionally served with ghee (clarified butter).

Cost: Rs. 30 – Rs. 50

Region: Bihar, Jharkhand, and eastern part of Uttar Pradesh (like in Varanasi)

Main ingredients: Wheat flour, mashed potatoes, chickpea flour, eggplant, tomatoes

Serving temperature: Hot

 

4. Thukpa

Thukpa is a noodle soup that’s commonly found along the Indo-Tibetan region. The noodle soup has gained popularity among Indians in colder regions and is one of the examples of how multi-cultural India can be. 

Cost: Rs. 50 – Rs. 70

Region: Sikkim, Himachal Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh

Main ingredients: all-purpose flour, carrot, capsicum, cabbage

Serving temperature: Hot

 

5. Vada Pav

Wada Pav
Some modern version of Vada Pav

Vada Pav is largely popular in the western state of Maharashtra and is my go-to choice for a quick bite whether it’s before work, after work, or in between work. 

Vada is a deep-fried spiced potato ball coated in flour and Pav means bread. Vada is placed between the bread that is sliced in half. The slit is commonly coated with chutneys of choice, the most common ones are green and red colored ones (spicy and tangy). It’s often served in a piece of newspaper accompanied by few fried green chilies and dry garlic chutney (red in color). 

Pro Tip: I would recommend avoiding the chutneys if you have just arrived in India as they can be stale.

Cost: Rs. 12 – Rs. 20 

Region: Maharashtra

Main ingredients: White flour (bread), gram flour, boiled potatoes

Serving temperature: Room temperature (unless you find a vendor frying a fresh batch of Vada.

 

6. Bhel Puri/ Jhal Muri

Jhal Murhi in paper cone

Made with puffed rice, this is especially common in coastal areas of India.

Like most other Indian dishes, Bhel Puri comes in many varieties, which vary from state to state. In some parts, it’s served with mustard oil, onions, and fresh coriander, but in many other parts, it’s mixed with various sauces, onion, tomato, lime, etc.

In Mumbai, the two common variants are – Geela and sukha (translation – wet and dry). It is what it sounds like, one is made with no sauces, one is made with sauces that take the crunchiness of the puffed rice away but adds additional flavors.

Bhelpuri is also easily one of the most common foods sold on Indian trains. The vendors have a basket hanging around their neck with puffed rice in between and all other ingredients circling it. Served in paper cones with a makeshift spoon made of a thick sheet cut in rectangles.

Cost: Rs. 20 – Rs. 30

Region: Common in Indian railways across India and eastern states of Jharkhand, Bihar, West Bengal

Main ingredients: Puffed rice, onion, mustard oil, raw mango, lime, black gram

Serving temperature: Room temperature

 

7. Dal vada/ Pakora (Fritters)

These are different things but can be difficult to distinguish for travelers. As they look quite similar and are essentially fritters made of different things.

Pakoras are vegetables dipped in gram flour batter and deep-fried. The most common ones are onion, potatoes, cauliflower, and eggplant. They are served with chutney, ketchup, or plain. I love to eat with them with a cup of piping hot chai.

Dal Vada is coarsely ground chickpea fritters.

Cost: Rs. 20 – Rs. 40 for a plate

Region: Across India

Main ingredients: gram flour, onion

Serving temperature: Hot

 

8. Samosa

Samosa with Jalebi
That’s Samosas with Indian sweet – Jalebis (Orange round ones)

Found almost everywhere in India, Samosas originated in the middle east and Central Asia. It was brought to India by Central Asian traders in the 12th or 13th Century. 

Samosas are seasoned potatoes filled in white flour dough shells that are deep-fried. Much like empanadas. Served with tangy chutney, samosas make for a great evening snack.

Cost: Rs. 5 – Rs. 15 for one

Region: Easy to find in the northern and eastern states of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Orissa

Main ingredients: All-purpose flour, boiled potatoes

Serving temperature: Hot

 

9. Dosa

If I could only have one thing for breakfast for the rest of my life, – I would choose Dosa. Dosa is a savory crepe made with rice and skinless black lentils. The batter is left overnight to ferment a little bit that adds to the flavor. 

Dosas also come with multiple fillings like potatoes, cheese, onion, a mix of these, etc. You know how Americans keep adding strange things as toppings on Pizza? We do that with the Dosa. 

Dosa is accompanied by coconut chutney and few other sauces that vary from region to region. In Andhra Pradesh, it comes with spicy ginger chutney. 

Cost: Rs. 30 – Rs. Rs. 80

Region: Best in southern states of India – Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Karnataka

Main ingredients: Rice, lentils

Serving temperature: Hot

 

10. Aloo Tikki

The closest western dish equivalent is potato croquette except Aloo Tikki is made with mashed potatoes and not grated with lots of spices. 

This deep-fried potato patty is also served with fresh sauces. If you’re not too sure of the sauces, you could either have it with ketchup or stand-alone. 

Cost: Rs. 20 – Rs. 40

Region: Best in Delhi, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh

Main ingredients: Boiled mashed potatoes

Serving temperature: Hot

 

11. Pani Puri/ Gol Gappa/ Puchka

Pani Puri

Pani Puri could easily be labeled the national street food of India. These are crispy round balls (made with semolina or wheat flour), filled with spiced water, and stuffing that varies from region to region. 

It’s best to try Pani Puri in a restaurant and not from a push-cart as the cold serving temperature makes it a rather risky proposition. 

Cost: Rs. 20 – Rs. 30 for a plate of six Pani Puri balls

Region: Sold across India. Personal recommendation – Delhi or Kolkata (capital of the eastern state West Bengal)

Main ingredients: Wheat flour/Semolina, potatoes, tamarind, mint

Serving temperature: Cold

 

12. Chaat

Chaat is synonymous with street food in India. While the most common star ingredient for chaat is a samosa or a potato fritter, we can make a chaat of anything from mangoes to paid (crisp fried puris). I love making chaat out of boiled sweet potatoes. 

On the street side stalls, the central ingredient (samosa or potato fritter) is topped with layers of yogurt, onion, chickpea curry, sweet, spicy, and tangy sauces. It is a blast of flavors and textures. 

Cost: Rs. 20 – Rs. 50

Region: Sold across India. Personal recommendation – Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, West Bengal

Main ingredients: boiled potatoes, yogurt, onion, green peas curry

Serving temperature: Hot

 

13. Chai

Tea and Momos with mountains in background

 

Chai is the undisputed unofficial national beverage of India. This is the only thing that is constant across India. There are varieties of it, but no place or hill in India, would you struggle to find a tea stall, if you can’t directly see it, it would generally be just around the corner.

Cost: Rs. 10

Region: Everywhere!

Main ingredients: Tea leaves, sugar, ginger, milk

Serving temperature: Hot

If you wish to try making any of it at home, my favorite website to follow is – Raks Kitchen.

 

Tips to stay healthy on the road in India

  • Go slow: Give your stomach some time to acclimatize to the local food. Maybe try eating out in small size restaurants first before you start your street food adventure.
  • Prefer vegetarian: Old vegetables do less harm than dodgy meat. Indian is one of the easiest countries to be vegetarian in and the tropical climate means lots of delicious vegetables that are local to the region. 
  • Freshly Roasted or Fried Food: Start with freshly roasted or fried stuff so the bacteria is killed. Roasted/Boiled nuts are common to find as well. 
  • Packaged drinking water: Water is the main source of worry while consuming many street food delicacies which is why I recommend trying hot food. While consuming water, drink packaged drinking water. 
  • Go where the crowd is: Crowded stalls mean they got to be making fresh food more often than not. 

Indian bhel puri street cart

Also Read: 11 Superfoods to Try on Your Trip to India

 

Things to Avoid while consuming street food in India:

  • Avoid having yogurt-based dishes during the monsoon as it spoils fast.
  • Avoid ice in fruit juices and other beverages as it may not be from a clean water source and is often transported quite roughly in jute bags. You would have to inform the vendor before they start making the juice as many would add ice cubes in the juicer.

While Indian food has a large variety of delicacies that cater to travelers with all sorts of budgets, one might crave their home food here as India does not have a large non-Asian immigrant population. The best way to satiate that desire would be to find a restaurant in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, or Bangalore that have a multitude of restaurants serving cuisines from around the world.

 

Note: Many Indian hostels do not have a functioning kitchen. In case you intend to cook, it would be best to check with the hostel before making a reservation.

6 thoughts on “Street Food Guide for Your First Trip to India”

  1. Hello ma’am!
    My name is Komal Shinde and currently am pursuing my Masters in Communication and Journalism.
    Am actually doing research on analyzing the problems female bloggers face while sharing their experiences online through a blog.
    So if I send you a questionnaire regarding the same on your email ID would you be interested in filling it

    Reply

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: