Street food of Mumbai is the food sold by trade hawkers from portable market stalls in Mumbai. It is one of the characteristics of the city and known for its distinctive street foods. Although street food is common all over India, street food in Mumbai is noted because people from all economic classes eat on the roadside almost round the clock. Many Mumbaikars like a small snack on the road in the evening.
Street food vendors are credited by some for developing the city’s food culture. Street food in Mumbai is relatively inexpensive as compared to restaurants and vendors tend to be clustered around crowded areas such as colleges and railway stations.
Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, is dominated by Maharashtrian food. Vada Pav is noted as the most popular street food in Mumbai. Other noted street foods in Mumbai include Panipuri, Bhelpuri, Sevpuri, Dahipuri, Sandwiches, Ragda-pattice, Pav Bhaji, Chinese bhel, Idlis and Dosas, all of which are vegetarian.
In terms of non-vegetarian offerings omelette-pav, kebabs and fish are found on Mumbai streets.
The variety of street food is attributed to the cosmopolitan culture of the city. In the 1980s Indianised Chinese food was an emerging trend on Mumbai streets.
Other popular street food items include Misal Pav (spicy curry made of sprouted moth beans which is eaten with pav, an Indian bread), and vegetable frankie (a popular and cheaper version of wraps and rolls).
Kulfi (a type of ice cream) and gola (type of ice cone) are among the desserts and coolants found on Mumbai streets. Apart from snacks, Mumbai has several juice and milkshake bars on the roadside that offer a variety of juices and milkshakes. Fresh sugarcane juice vendors are synonymous with Mumbai roads and offer a cheap form of refreshment. Tea vendors cycle around the city, selling the beverage hot on the streets. Street vendors normally remain unaffected by general strike calls and do business all year around. Paan, a betel leaf preparation eaten as a mouth fresher post meals in India is also sold at Mumbai’s roadside stalls.
Areas and Spread
Lanes with a sizable cluster of street food stalls are known as “”Khau Galli’s”” locally which means “food street” in Marathi . Girgaum Chowpatty beach is noted for its bhelpuri and kulfi. Street vendors at Nariman Point, one of the city’s financial hubs, do brisk business during the lunch hour.
Mumbai’s street food has made its way into kitchens of restaurants in the city, including five star hotels. In fact, restaurants in various parts of the world have incorporated Mumbai’s street food into their menu cards. Homegrown fast food companies that serve street food in Mumbai have been launched in recent years.
Many people, especially from elite classes, avoid eating on the roadside because of hygiene issues. Restaurants and hotels have capitalised on this phenomenon by offering street food to their clientele. As many of the street food vendors are North Indian, street food vendors were targeted during the 2008 attacks on North Indian migrants in Maharashtra. A large number of hawkers trade illegally, without mandatory permits from the local municipality, by bribing officials. Drives to evict hawkers are regularly held, though the hawkers return after a short period of time. Equipment and other goods seized from illegal hawkers are returned by the municipality after the hawker pays a fine. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in a case against illegal hawking by asking the municipality to demarcate 230 areas in the city as legal hawking zones, a number that was later increased to 1700 areas; this is still to be implemented. A news report in 2009 claimed that no hawking licenses had been issued in Mumbai for 20 years and that out of the estimated 250,000 hawkers in the city only about 17,000 had a valid license.
A controversy emerged in 2011, when a panipuri vendor from Thane was filmed urinating into a container that was also used to serve the customers. The event led to a public uproar and a major political drama in the city; Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena members again attacked North Indians, targeting the Panipuri and Bhelpuri sellers of Mumbai and Thane. The vendor concerned was arrested by the police and taken to court, which fined him and thereafter let him off with a warning. After action against all panipuri vendors across the city by political parties, the vendor in question, who himself was in the business for 15 years, chose to give up the trade altogether and take up a job with a private security agency.”
Akuri is a spicy scrambled egg dish eaten in Parsi cuisine of India.
Akuri – Parsi Style Seasoned Scrambled Eggs – One of the great Parsi dishes, every family has its own special way of making this breakfast meal. Though variations of the ingredients are vociferously debated, Akuri is usually made by scrambling eggs with onions, tomatoes (or even raw mangoes when in season), red chilli powder, green chillies and topped with fresh coriander. Others add milk, jeera (cumin) powder, curry leaves and even ginger and garlic paste. View Recipe
Baida Roti – Spiced meat — chicken or minced mutton, even bheja (brain) — and whipped eggs with masala-fied fried onions enveloped in a square shaped dough and pan fried. These are generally served with sliced onion rings and green chutney.
Batata Vada – This well-liked fast food dumpling is made by mashing boiled potatoes with green chillies, ginger, garlic, lime juice, turmeric, and fresh coriander, then dipped in a besan (gram flour) batter and deep fried. It is served either with a green chutney or fried green chillies. View Recipe
Butter Chicken – Made from chunks of chicken, marinated overnight in a yoghurt and spice mix that includes ginger garlic paste and lime juice. It is then grilled or pan-fried. An ultra rich sauce made with butter, tomato puree, cumin, garam masala and fresh cream is then poured over it. Best had with Indian breads like rotis, naan or parathas. Don’t confuse it with chicken tikka masala.
Bombay Sandwich – A combination of the most unlikely ingredients. Lavishly buttered white bread and sandwiched between them thin slices of beetroot, boiled potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, onion rings, and mint chutney. Cut into four triangles so that you can handle all the layers without spilling them, you get the most refreshing tangy taste, after each bite. A toasted version steams up the vegetables inside and adds another dimension.
Bheja Fry – Bheja, or goat brain, sautéed with tomatoes, onions, turmeric, green chillies, spices and garnished with fresh coriander. Eaten with a roti (Indian bread) or pao, this melt in the mouth dish has a rich Muslim heritage behind it and you often find that one plate is not enough.
Bombil Fry – Bombil, or Bombay Duck, is a fish (not a duck !) found in plenty in the waters around Mumbai. Bombils are flattened, then dipped in a spice-filled besan (gram flour) batter and fried. This crunchy-on-the-outside and mushy-soft-on-the-inside fish dish can be eaten on its own as a starter, or as a main course with chapattis.
Brun Maska – Brun or gutli pao — a local bread that is unique to Mumbai — is crisp and hard and crumbly on the outside and soft inside. The Brun is sliced and lashings of butter are applied lavishly. Some even sprinkle quite a bit of sugar. It is usually accompanied by the sweet Irani chai.
Bhel Puri – The most commonly sold chaat on the streets of Mumbai, every bhel walla will have his own blend ( and a considerable 7pm fan following). While the ingredients — puffed rice, papadi (small crisp deep fried flour puris), sev, onions, potatoes, raw mango and sweet and sour chutney — remain the same, it is the proportions in which they are thrown together on the street side that makes the difference.
Chicken Mayo Roll – Almost every school or college canteen serves it. Most single screen cinema houses showing English movies display it during the interval. Most bakeries will have their version, neatly wrapped in cellophane, at the counter. Some grocery stores in up market areas stock it along with grain and rice. It’s hard to believe that plain boiled chicken doused in sweet-ish mayonnaise with a celery leaf for dressing, all wrapped up in a bread roll can be so popular in a spice loving city.
Chicken Manchurian – Here’s a dish that even the Chinese over on the mainland haven’t heard about yet it’s on the menu of the roadside handcart Chinese food hawkers and most Chinese restaurants in the fancy five-star hotels. Chicken manchurian, a phrase that has come to be the face of Chinese food in India, is nothing but deep-fried batter-coated chicken cubes in a gravy made from onion, green chillies, garlic, vinegar and soy sauce. Eaten with rice.
Butter Garlic Crab
Butter Garlic Crab – A delicious, simple dish, where a large crab is drowned in tons of butter garlic sauce that seeps into every nook and cranny and coats every morsel of the flesh.
Dhoklas and Farsaan – These popular snacks are so integral to food loving Gujaratis that no meal is complete without them. Dhoklas or ‘khummun’ are made from the fermented batter of chickpeas, steamed and then spiced with chillies and ginger and tempered with mustard seed. Farsan is a collective term used for a type of snacks in Maharashtrian cuisine and Gujarati cuisine, from the Indian state of Maharashtra and Gujarat. Some are fried items which are then dried and can be stored, others are fresh or steamed.
Falooda – This adaptation of a Persian dessert was brought to India by the Mughals. A rich drink, Falooda is vermicelli mixed with milk, almonds, pistachios, a bit of rose syrup and the key ingredient — sabza or basil seeds — topped up with two scoops of ice cream.
Fish and/or Prawn Curry – This coconut-based light curry can be prepared using a variety of fish or prawn. But the most popular curries use surmai (kingfish), pomfret (butter fish), bangda (mackerel) or bombil (Bombay duck). And the only way to truly enjoy it is with par boiled country rice.
Frankie – Inspired by the Lebanese pita bread wrap – a juicy naan bread with an egg coating and stuffed with mutton or chicken, rolled up and sprinkled with a unique masala that gives it its special flavour. The vegetarian option does not use eggs and the stuffings include paneer or potatoes.
Gujarati Thaalis – In fast food terms think of this as a large, all-you-can-eat combo platter served on your table in unlimited quantities. Three types of farsan (fried snacky things with a plethora of chutneys). Two kinds of vegetables. Two kinds of lentils. Dal and kadhi (hot and spicy yoghurt based dish). A basket of different rotis and puris (deep fried breads). Two kinds of rice. Two desserts. And mango pulp which the purists pour all over the plate. A note on Gujarati cuisine: most dishes tend to be on the sweet side and that makes an interesting combination with the spiciness of the food.
Kheema Pao – Minced mutton cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes, chillies and spices takes on many avatars here. In its original form, it is refereed to as plain Kheema. Topped with a crisply fried sunny side up egg, it is called kheema single fry. And scrambled with eggs, it is called ghotala. And all three are best eaten with Mumbai’s signature pao bread bun. Traditionally a breakfast dish, it is now eaten at all times of the day or night.
Kebabs – While the kebab per se may not be unique to Mumbai or the region, a few varieties that emerged from the Bohri Muslim community are truly unique. Gurda (kidney) and kaleji (liver) top this list. Charcoal grilled, they go great with freshly sliced onions and a squeeze of lime.
Kolhapuri Mutton – The hotter the temperature of a city, the hotter the food. And it’s true of this mutton dish that has its roots in Kolhapur, a city in the south of Maharashtra. It comes in two coconut based gravy variations. The nuclear strength version is called Tambda Rassa (a red chili spiced extravaganza). And the milder version is called Pandhara Rassa (yoghurt, cashew nuts and raisin embellished). Both go well with either rotis or rice when you’re in the mood for a feast.
Kanda Poha – A must-have in Maharashtrian families, you will rarely find a badly made kanda poha dish. This simple, easy to make snack is made with kanda (onions) and poha (flaked rice) mixed with chopped potatoes and green chillies, sometimes even peas. Tempered with mustard seeds and garnished with fresh coriander and a squeeze of lime, it lights up dull days. And cements the many days in a marriage together.
Misal Pao – Quintessentially from Pune, this rustic dish is made from a mix of curried sprouted lentils, topped with batata (potato) bhaji, poha (rice flakes), chivda, farsan, raw chopped onions and tomato. This hot and spicy dish is eaten with pao bread. To cut the fire, add some yogurt.
Modak – A Maharashtrian sweet prepared during the Ganesh festival around August, modak is offered to Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed god, because it is his favorite sweet. Wheat flour dough kneaded with milk, stuffed with grated coconut and mixed with sugar or jaggery. Shaped like a teardrop and steamed or fried. Typically 21 are made as an auspicious offering to the god and tons more for the rest of the family. It’s a pity that it’s made only once a year and in this region.
Mutton Dhansak – Representative of Parsi cuisine, the mutton dhansak falls in the category of soul food. It is mutton cooked till tender in a lentil dal laden with spices. And it is eaten with browned rice topped with deep fried onions, garnished with mutton kebabs and sprinkled with a crunchy mix of chopped raw onions, raw tomatoes and coriander. And the aftereffects are usually exhibited in a sound afternoon nap.
Mutton Sukke – Mumbaikers break out into sweat over this Malvani-style mutton dish. Chunks of mutton on the bone marinated in a hot Malvani masala and fried with onions and garlic and red chillies until everything browns and the meat is tender. It can be eaten with chapattis or wadé, rice flour pancakes.
Patra ni Machhi – Another top of the line Parsi dish. This is freshly caught pomfret, marinated in a chutney that includes grated coconut, green chillies, fresh coriander and mint leaves, cumin, sugar, lime and salt. It is then wrapped in banana leaf and steamed for about ten minutes. Gently unwrap and consume quietly, close your eyes and savor the flavour of a culinary culture that will fill your senses.
Pao Bhaji – This specialty dish from the by-lanes of Mumbai has mashed steamed mixed vegetables (mainly potatoes, peas, tomatoes, onions and green pepper) cooked in spices and loads of butter. It is eaten with pao, which is shallow fried in even more butter and served with chopped onions. Sometimes cheese and paneer (cottage cheese) are added. People from all over India come to Mumbai to eat pao bhaji.
Prawns Koliwada – Contrary to popular belief that this dish originated on the Konkan coast, it is actually a very Mumbai dish and the story goes that it was created in the Sion fishing village, or koliwada, by — and here’s the twist — a north Indian immigrant from Punjab. These deep-fried prawns marinated in a batter of flour, spices and ginger garlic paste can be identified by their signature red colour. And they are crunchy yet melt in the mouth. Pick the smaller sized prawns, they taste better.
Nalli Nihari – The phrase “breakfast like a king” gets taken to another level when you dig into a plate of Muslim nalli nihari. You could probably fight a war after this power meal made of soft and tender mutton shanks in a rich, greasy gravy filled with marrow and steeped in spices, the flavors exploding with delight. A crisp roti makes for the perfect accompaniment.
Puran Poli – A festive dish made by Maharashtrians and Gujaratis especially during Holi (to celebrate the end of the winter season) and Dussehra (to celebrate the triumph of Lord Ram over the demon Raavan). It is made by simmering chana dal (yellow gram) with sugar or jaggery (molasses or gur) till it dries up, and then hand-ground to smoothen it out. Nutmeg and cardamom powders are the flavorings. Palm sized balls of this paste are stuffed into wheat flour dough and rolled out to be roasted on a tawa frying pan with a little ghee (clarified butter). Do add a lot of ghee when you’re eating them, they taste tops then.
Ragda Pattice – This twin delight is a combination of ragda, soft spicy rugged flavored chickpeas, and pattice, mashed potatoes shaped into fat patties and fried. The ideal way is to eat it is to crush the ragda with the pattice and pile on the accompaniments — finely chopped onions, tangy tamarind sauce and fiery green chutney. Mash it all up and dig in for the true flavor of Mumbai.
Sabudana Vada – For Maharashtrians, sabudana vada is the traditional ‘upvas’ or fasting food and the really hardcore folk fast up to four times a week. And the good news is that the restaurants never fail to oblige with hot crisp sabudana vadas for those who don’t have the time to make it at home. Sago is soaked until it puffs up. Crushed boiled potatoes, green chillies, coriander leaves and salt are kneaded in. They are then fashioned into palm-sized patties and deep fried until they turn crisp and golden. And then one bite leads to another and another.
Samosa – It’s best to bite into a hot one, hiding under a street stall during a typical Mumbai monsoon downpour. When you go through the crisp crust, you meet the steaming and savory-with-a-hint-of-sour chunks of spiced potatoes and peas. Lovingly shaped into triangles and deep fried, these calorie busters are worth the one week that you’ll need on the treadmill to work it off. But a samosa can also give you heart at that last leg of your day when transport is not in sight, it’s dark and there’s a long way home.
Sizzlers – A combination of grilled meats and vegetables served on what looks like a hot chunk of black iron, with a side of mashed potatoes or fries and gravy. Sizzlers come in several vegetarian options too. Long lines at restaurants are a testimony to its enduring popularity.
Sorpatel and Vindaloo – These Goan specialties set your taste buds on fire and grandmothers are rumored to pass out feni shots (a strong Goan brew made from palm or cashew nuts) to douse the flames. The sorpatel has all parts of the pig, including its blood, in the recipe. And the vindaloo is made with chunks of fatty pork meat cooked with spices, red chillies and lots of vinegar. Ideally, they are eaten the next day, after having spent the night soaking in all the juices and flavours.
South Indian Meals – “Meals Ready” is a common sign found outside South Indian restaurants. In front of Udipi hotels, a euphemism for all south Indian cuisine, it means vegetarian meals laid out on a thaali, a stainless steel plate, or on a traditional banana leaf. A couple of vegetables, sambar (spicy and sour lentils and vegetables boiled with masalas and spices), rasam (a hot and fiery lentil soup-like dish) and curds (yoghurt) served with heaps of rice and eaten in that order. A non-vegetarian version of the ‘Meals’ can be found in ‘Military’ hotels.
Zhunka Bhakar – This dish has deep roots in the farming and working class communities of interior Maharashtra. Considered the common man’s food, a political decision was made at the highest echelons of government to make it available everywhere. Overnight, thousands of zhunka bhakar stalls opened, none pricing it more than Rs 10. Traditionally, the zhunka is made using chopped onions tempered with mustard seeds and kadipatta leaves mixed with chickpea flour and is dry. It is eaten with jowar (millet) bhakri or roti.
Varan Bhaat – If you wanted to name one truly soul satisfying food of Mumbai city, then this would be it. The simple and truly humble dish is made by lightly tempering cooked-till-soft toor dal (a lentil) with ghee (clarified butter), turmeric and cumin powder. Served over steaming hot rice, or bhaat, it assumes magical, mythical proportions.
South Indian Tiffin(idlis and vadas) – What started as tiffin in British India — a light meal that was had between meals — has become a rage all over the country. And especially in hard working Mumbai. Here you will find a South Indian tiffin available every half a kilometer and at any time of day or night. These steamed (idlis) or fried (vadas) dumplings made with multi-grain lentil batter are best scooped up with coconut chutney or dunked into hot sambar (spicy and sour lentil and vegetable soup, boiled with masalas and spices).
Vada Pao – In the vast fast food world of Mumbai, this is the tastiest “cutlet in a bun” by a mile. And no, it’s not available at McDonald’s. Every Mumbaiker’s favourite on-the-go snack, the vada pao satiates millions every day. And the recipe, hard to duplicate because each stall owner has his own secret ingredient, uses a combination of boiled potatoes mashed with fresh coriander, green chillies, a bit of ginger and sometimes garlic, made into palm-sized balls, dipped in a chickpea flour batter and deep fried till golden. They are stuffed into a pao, which has been applied with a layer of spicy green chutney and a fiery red garlic crush. Tastes best when eaten hot.