Delightful Street Foods of Bombay

By Premlata Venkataraman
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Recently I read in the NYT that they have instituted awards for the superb street food collection that exists in New York. That brought memories of my Bombay days… … …

I was lucky I lived in Bombay which is a gastronomes’ delight for food from all regions of India. I am not talking of the trendy restaurants that litter all over the city today. I am referring to the street food culture in Bombay where you can get every meal from breakfast to late night snacks (even after watching the late-night “2nd show” crappy masala Hindi movie!)

And what an array there was… … You could have piping hot dosas with chutney & sambar, or with an egg fried on top. You could have the uniquely Bombay pav bhaji, the delicious and nutritious lunch of the rich and poor alike, served piping hot and spicy and, also hygienic because no germ would survive those volcanic temperatures.

You could have the real poor man’s snack vada pav at any time of the day and wash it down with a glass of water and call it a day. Of course the bhel puri/sev puri/dahi puri combos were ambrosia from heaven to stifle hunger pangs at any time of the day.

And pani puri, the snack that is a symbol of democracy and equality in eating.. Customers stand in a circle around the vendor as he plunges his thumb into the small 2″dia hollow puris to make a hole, fills the puris with spicy potato pieces, dunks the puri into sweet-and-tart jeera-tamarind water, and hands it over to his customers one by one. You put it into your mouth, and a rainbow of culinary experience explores in your mouth: As you bite into it, you find it is crispy, salty, cool, spicy hot, tart, sweet, with just enough liquid to smoothly swallow it down transporting you into a rapture of sorts to your taste buds… …

The New York Times story mentioned that Biryani Cart, won the People’s Taste Award at the Vendys second year in a row. They also commented that, “Their rice is a lot better than any of the other street carts. Most have plain old yellow rice. Theirs is actual biryani.”

Of course, in New York with its diverse multinational population, it is easy to have street food running the gamut from Japanese to Icelandic to Brazilian. (some more infor about the Vendys…)

Even after living in the suburbs for over 20 years, I have not lost my penchant for eating street food. Luckily I work in Oakland in a university, where we have several ethnic food “enclaves” – really they are street foods served from a truck — that serve the same delicious, hot, inexpensive fare for those days I do not pack a lunch. See above: Dining a la “Carts” at CMU. Inset: Saran from Thai Kitchen graciously serves food.

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