A spice journey: Indian cuisine, street food and desert forts

Words and photographs from our guest blogger, Janet Robbins

Lucky me! I recently had the good fortune to spend a fortnight in India. The first week was spent in the bustling city of Mumbai (Bombay), and the second travelling through many of the fabled cities of Rajasthan, a northern Indian state bordering Pakistan. With mountains, deserts and fertile plains Rajasthan is home to fairy tale stories of Maharajas and their majestic forts and lavish palaces, often rising up imperiously from the burnt sand landscape as if a mirage.

As well as marveling at princely palaces, forbidding forts, elephants, camels, jewels, silks, cottons, the bright colours and friendly faces, I also discovered several Indian dishes, most of which were unfamiliar to me. Here are some of my favourite dishes spotted, tasted and eaten as Street Food, in hotels and restaurants!

Dahi Batata Puri

Dahi Batat Puri served by Café Shalimar in West Mumbai
Dahi Batat Puri served by Café Shalimar in West Mumbai

A puri is an unleavened deep-fried Indian bread. It forms the base for Dahi Batata Puri, a popular Mumbai street food. Basically, you break open the puris, stuff them with cooked potatoes, then add chopped onions and tomatoes and top them off with chutneys, red, green and sweet (tamarind chutney is a popular choice).

Over this is poured a whipped curd, yoghurt. Then each puri is covered with thin, crispy noodles known as sev, chopped coriander leaves, dried masala (a blend of spices) and scattered with pomegranate seeds. We ate these delicious snacks at the Café Shalimar in West Mumbai, a fast food eatery close to both the Crawford Market and the Chor (Thieves) Market.

Pakora

Also known as Pakoda, Pakora is really a fritter, a popular street food snack coming in both bite-size pieces or larger, depending on the filling. We saw them prepared both ways.

A street chef in Jodphur making Chili Pakodas
A street chef in Jodphur making Chili Pakodas

In this first photo (above) , a street chef at the sprawling food market that lies in the shadow of the massive Meherangarh Fort in Jodphur, has mixed up a batter of chick-pea flour (gram), turmeric, masala powder and chili powder with water. He’ll then dip the green chilies (sometimes stuffed with potatoes or other vegetables) in the batter and for deepfrying.

Palak Pakodas
Palak Pakodas

In the second photo (above), we ordered a plate of the smaller, bite-sized palak pakoras (these ones filled with potatoes and spinach, and served with mint chutney) at a little café in Jaisalmer after wandering around and through the imposing fort in that city. They were the perfect snack to re-energize us!

Samosa

Samosas made in the kitchens of the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai
Samosas made in the kitchens of the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai

Usually vegetarian, Samosas are probably the most popular Indian snack and without doubt the most well known Indian tidbit throughout the world. Almost everyone has eaten a samosa! They can be a street food, or a tiffin (lunch time) snack, served in cafes and restaurants as an appetizer. I actually ate these at a café in the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai, where we sought a little quiet from the crowds of people milling around the Gateway to India Monument, just outside the hotel.

A simple pastry dough is kneaded, divided, rested, kneaded again and divided into little balls. Rolled flat, it is then filled with cooked potatoes mixed with onions, ginger, green chili, coriander, ground masala, green peas, and then deep fried.

My samosas were served with a sweet tamarind chutney, and with a delicious cup of Darjeeling tea, they really ‘hit the spot’.

Lassi

A refreshing glass of pineapple Lassi
A refreshing glass of pineapple Lassi

On hot days, when you find yourself walking through crowded streets with the eternal noise of honking car horns and screeching brakes, there’s nothing like a glass of refreshing Lassi to cool and calm you down.

Makhaniya Lassi, a yoghurt drink blended with saffron and cardamom
Makhaniya Lassi, a yoghurt drink blended with saffron and cardamom

Originating in the Punjab region of India, Lassi is a yoghurt-based drink that can be flavored with fresh fruits such as pineapple, mango, papaya. Our tour guide in Udaipur ordered a tall pineapple Lassi at the outdoor restaurant where we stopped for lunch.

Sometimes, milk or rosewater is added, along with spices. In Jodphur, our guide took us to his favorite café in the big street market, and ordered us a Makhaniya Lassi, which was simply yoghurt blended with saffron and cardamom. They were like nectar!

Janet Robbins has been a long-time resident of the west coast USA and for the past eight years, a part-time resident of Paris, France. This was her first visit to India. She cannot wait to return!

 

Bruce McMichael

I am freelance journalist and published author focusing on food and drink; business startups and enterprise; culture and travel. I have also written about the global upstream oil and gas industry, shipping and current affairs. Based in London, I travel widely, particularly across western Europe. I have chaired many conferences and meetings, spoken at conferences and events and often appear on radio and TV talking most about food, the business of food and being an entrepreneur.

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