Indian street eats come in all shapes and sizes. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available on the street pretty much any time of the day or night. The vast majority of Indian street eats are deep-fried in oil and served piping hot. They might not be great for the waistline, but they sure are tasty.
But not all street eats (read: street eat vendors) are created equal. You can find your stomach in a quick pickle if you choose unwisely. Follow your senses, choose busy stalls, avoid obviously unsanitary conditions, and, if it doesn’t taste right, spit it out. We’ve gone to town on North Indian street east for almost two months, and have yet to get sick. (That doesn’t mean we haven’t spit a couple things out).
Here are ten of our favorite north Indian street eats that are easy to spot from Jodhpur to Varanasi.
The lassi is probably the most widely recognized Indian specialty beverage/breakfast/snack. Lassis can be sweet, salty, or any mix in between. Some swing more towards a meal than a drink and vise-versa. While the variations and add-ons are endless, at its base, a lassi is yogurt blended with ice. Additional ingredients, consistency, and serving size lead to a sometimes dizzying array of possibilities in this iconic dish.
Lassi stands that specialize in a single lassi blend have been the best in our experience. Huge, often custom-built, lassi blenders are another sign that you’re in the right place. Some shops still blend them by hand which is a treat, but honestly the best lassies we’ve had have been whipped to perfection with the aid of electric horsepower. Whenever we find a good lassi walla, we make it our morning routine to down one before heading out for the day. The probiotics from the yogurt also keep your stomach in check so you can keep exploring all the street eats India has to offer.
Samosas are one of our favorite Indian snacks back home. We almost always order a couple when eating out in Bay Area. The samosas on north Indian’s streets do not disappoint. Although sometimes I find the ratio of dough to stuffing to be a bit disproportional. The best ones have a thin flaky crust and a solid amount of their classic potato, onion, green peas, spices, and green chili stuffing inside. Best when eaten fresh out the fryer with a douse of mint or tamarind chutney on top. We’ve been told (and have adopted the custom ourselves) that samosa are often eaten for breakfast in India. A great way to start your morning.
While we’re used to eating them whole at home, here the vendor crushes one or two samosas onto a plate, and then tops them with tamarind and mint sauce, and even a splash of spicy dal.
3. Matar Kachori
Often served alongside samosas, matar kachori is on the way to eclipsing its neighbor as our go-to Indian street eats. We discovered these mid-sized bundles of joy in Bundi, south Rajasthan. They are similar to, but lighter than, samosas, round in shape and filled with an addictive spicy dal (lentil) concoction that makes your mouth water and brow sweat, and keeps you eating them for fear of what the heat might do if you stop.
Luckily matar kachori is usually accompanied with the same arsenal of cooling chutneys served with their brethren samosa. The tamarind chutney in particular takes the edge off the spiciness and makes the kachori even better.
4. Gol Gapa
Gol Gappa (aka Pani Puri) is one of the most popular and ubiquitous street food throughout India. Basically a fried piece of dough that serves as a catalyst for many different toppings. Some places offer gol gappas as a whole plate, but you most often find locals eating them one at a time from a roadside vendor. They vary in size but are often “bite size” (if you have a really big mouth). Vendors usually have a cart filled the brim with pre fried Gol Gappas and have to keep track of how many each of their patrons eat.
5. Aloo Tikki
Aloo tikki is another of our favorite new Indian street eats. There are quite a few variations of Aloo Tikki but it all begins with a potato croquettes made of mashed potatoes and various herbs and spices slowly fried and crisped up in oil or gee. In our favorite preparation, the allo tikki is seared to perfection in a shallow cast iron plate, flattened, covered in a savory chickpea gravy, and topped with a sweet mint chutney. The crispy outside of the croquette perfectly contrasts the soft inside and savory chickpea gravy. The mint chutney adds just the right amount of acid and brightness to the dish. It’s pretty much the perfect Indian street eat.
6. Chicken Tandoori
Chicken tandoori is a classic dish known all around the world. And it started right here in northern India.
Traditionally, the chicken is marinated in yogurt and seasoned with a spice mixture most commonly referred to as tandoori masala. Every cook in india has his own variation of tandoori masala, but all masala mixes share some common traits. First, red chili. Second, turmeric (which produces an orange color). These two ingredients are combined (in various quantities) to give tandoori chicken its fiery color.
If your tandoori chicken looks more red than orange, chances are it’s pretty spicy, which for me is a good thing. Most sit-down restaurants cook tandoori in a traditional clay oven, but the street food version uses a charcoal barbecue. You get the same great taste at a fraction of the price, and smelling your prize blocks away can lead to an even tastier experience.
Fresh fried aloo simple, tasty, cheap and available everywhere. Usually seasoned post fry with salts and spicy chili powder. It’s an Indian classic and a winner. Fried aloo is used in many different north indian dishes. The fryers of many street vendors are often seen cranking out wedged up aloo like this not only for customers but also for near by restaurants.
8. Masala Chai
Is there something more Indian than masala chai? We haven’t been to the south of India yet so we don’t know if masala chai is as popular there as it is in the North. But you can’t walk, talk, or sit in north India for more than 30 minutes before the next glass of chai finds its way to your hand. Good thing is masala chai is tasty, hot, and cheap so it’s pretty much always a welcomed interruption to the day.
In the far north (Spiti Valley north) the locals finished masala chai with unpasteurized butter, which made an intense alternative to regular chia. I wasn’t a big fan but Natalie couldn’t get enough of it. Everyone has their own spice blend, we love the addition of cinnamon to the mix. (and sprinkled on top)
9. Nan Khatai
When you’re ready for a break from the savory, nan khatai is waiting with a touch of sweet. These cast iron “baked” shortbread tea cookies taste just like short bread (aka butter cookies) you might find anywhere in the world. In north India, they’re often made with cashew nuts which gives them an amazing aroma and toasted nut flavor. They go great with masala chia tea. As often as chai‘s served, it’s a good thing nan khatai sells for 10 for 20 rupees.
Jalebi (aka Jilawii) are for the more adventurous sweet loving street eater. They are available just about anywhere you go in north India. A jalebi is a deep-fried wheat flour treat that often takes the form of a twisted, sugary looking pretzel. The wheat flour is first made into a liquid batter, pipped into a vat of hot oil, and soaked in an incredibly sweet sugar syrup. Jalebi are served warm or lukewarm, depending on when you catch the vendor in his frying cycle. They have a chewy texture and are essentially crystallized with sugar. They are pretty much insanely too sweet. But you have to try everything once, right?