Indian cuisine is as diverse as it is delicious and one of the simple joys of visiting Mumbai is the sheer gastronomic variety on offer. But despite its glitzy restaurants and upmarket cafes, there’s a flavour to the street food that eludes its gentrified counterparts – the rawness of the roadside experience and the finger-licking treats are well worth sampling. Take a look at our Mumbai street food tour for some culinary inspiration.
From savoury snacks to sugary desserts, at Mumbai’s street stalls and roadside eateries you’re spoilt for choice. Vendors freely experiment with ingredients and miraculously, odd combinations work. So you might find noodles in your dosa or the adapted Indo-Chinese schezwan chutney in your sandwich. Sipping some chai tea is a ritual that punctuates the day for most locals. In every second street you’ll find a mini-mob around stalls selling ‘cutting chai’ – half a glass of strong, masala tea.
Shriti K Tyagi of Beyond Bombay runs a customised Mumbai street food tour, which takes you to the Khao Gullies (lanes of food stalls) and historical and culinary landmarks. Or if you’re planning a DIY tour, start your street food pilgrimage at Crawford Market in South Mumbai, a chaotic, dizzying maze and heritage structure, with friezes and fountain designed by Lockwood Kipling, father of novelist Rudyard Kipling. Its most distinguished feature is the Clock Tower, adorned with intricate Victorian carvings. Known for its fresh produce and spices, Crawford Market also has a pet market.
Located opposite the market is Badshah restaurant, home of the famous falooda “” a cold milk-and-rose syrup drink with vermicelli and Tukmaria seeds (also known as sabjah), which is typically topped with ice cream. The renowned restaurant has an endearing 100 year-old legacy. When founder B. A. Badshah died at the tender age of 38 with no heirs, he left the shop to the then-manager Merwan Jehangir Irani. Irani employed Aspi, a 12-year-old Iranian boy, as cleaning help. When Aspi married Mr Irani’s daughter years later, the couple took over running the shop together. It remains a family business to this day, with Aspi’s wife and son-in-law at the helm, serving up divine mango faloodas (when in season), or the popular kesar (saffron) falooda and Royal Falooda varieties.
The Crawford Market area is a chaotic, dizzying maze, so ask locals for directions to Mirchi Galli, a narrow alley near Jumma Masjid mosque. Once home to hundreds of shops selling dry fruits and spices, the number has dwindled as successive generations have shown less inclination to keep the family businesses going. Originally the lane was known as Kohli Galli after the Kohli residents who stocked up on chillies for their cooking and even sold them to their neighbours. Once the Kohlis moved out, enterprising businessmen set up mirchi (chilli) shops. Today you can still pick up some perfectly preserved chillies (mixed with sesame oil), dry fruits and other spices.
The next stop on your Mumbai street food tour should be Kalbadevi, to try the celebrated thali. In many countries vegetarian dishes are added almost as an after-thought to a menu. But in India, vegetarians are in for a feast. At the 100 year-old Kalbadevi bhojanalaya, The Friends Union Joshi Club, offers a fantastic Gujarati-Marwari thali that includes unlimited servings of four vegetables, sweet and savoury kadhi and dal, chaas, a choice of phulkas, masala rotis, bajra rotis, bhakris, a variety of farsan, pickles, relishes and salad and rice or khichda.
Take a ten-minute walk from Kalbadevi and find yourself at Kyani & Co, the oldest operating Iranian cafe in the city. Try the brun-maska, a unique Indian bread made with butter, accompanied with some sweet Irani chai. Another ubiquitous sight is the sandwich stall. Mumbai has the boldest sandwichwallas who will happily throw anything they fancy between two humble slices of bread. Sample a sandwich at the tiny stall near St Xavier’s college, within walking distance of Kyani & Co.
Also within walking distance is Khao Galli, near Fashion Street. Try the vada pav – a round potato patty with a liberal dose of spices in the centre, deep-fried in gram flour. Tucked in a pav (bun) like a burger, it is served with a side of fried green chillies. And the onion and potato bhajiyas are served steaming hot, straight from the pan.
If you’re staying near Colaba in South Mumbai, fuel up after a heady night at Bademiya, located behind the Taj Mahal Hotel and open until the early hours. Try the minced mutton and chicken rolls with egg and onions for a delicious and filling snack. If skewered kebabs are more your thing, Mohammed Ali Road is also an excellent spot, but get there pronto before they sell out.
Round up your culinary adventure with some paan (a betel leaf wrapped around various concoctions). Hands down the best paan in Mumbai can be found at Muchhad Paanwala at Breach Candy. The moustache is a hallmark of the family, hence the name ‘Muchhad’.
Take a taxi to Mumbai Central station and head for Sardar’s pav bhaji stall. Essentially, vegetables mashed together with spices, the indulgent bhaji is loaded with butter, and the pav (bun) comes dripping in it too. No diet is worth remembering when faced with the prospect of such a sinful delight.
Venture north into Bandra for the city’s best paani-puri. At Elco Arcade on Hill Road, the vendor will poke a hole into fried puris and stuff them with potatoes, lentils and sweet and spicy chutney. And don’t miss the dahi puri (yoghurt chaat). Timid tummies needn’t fret; they use mineral water and wear gloves as a precautionary measure.
Finally, when in Mumbai you simply have to try the greasy ‘Chinese’ food, which is a wholly unique Indian adaption. The Chinese stalls and restaurants are everywhere and offer delicious, fiery comfort food. Chicken Manchurian? Go figure.
Have you been on a Mumbai street food tour? Share your experiences with us in the comments section below.
Written by Namrata Bhawnani