Mumbai is home to millions of street vendors. This is a city where street food has been a way of life for centuries; where enticing aromas waft off of street carts and a colorful spread of chaat awaits pedestrians at every corner. And because Mumbai is a city that never sleeps, there’s food to be found on the roads no matter what time you’re pounding the pavement.
Mumbai’s curbside cuisine is a reflection of the legions of immigrants who have flocked to the city from elsewhere in India. The city’s best dishes can be found on the city’s streets: pav bhaji (spiced vegetables with butter-soaked buns), vada pav (a potato cutlet burger), and gola (a shaved ice cone doused in syrup) are just the tip of the iceberg. Many of these snacks are a combination of sweet, sour, and spicy, with the perfect balance of contrasting textures. While non-vegetarian options such as omelette-pav, kebabs, and fish abound, the bulk of the street food is vegetarian—a reflection of Mumbaiites’ food preferences, and the fact that it’s not always the best idea to eat meat off street carts without refrigeration in a city that’s hot and humid.
Mumbai’s street fare is fun, exciting, and nothing like the goopy curry and oily naan that you’ve come to expect from your neighborhood Indian joint. It’s a real shame that very few of Mumbai’s street snacks have made their way to our streets (although, you can find them in various Little Indias across the U.S.). The sad truth is: Most of you may have to hop on a plane—and suffer through jetlag—if you want to dig into a decent plate of pav bhaji or taste a pani puri. In the meantime, there’s no reason you can’t subject yourself to a bit of torturous street-food porn, which is where this roundup of Mumbai’s best street snacks comes in handy.
Check out Mumbai’s essential street foods that we wish were more available in the U.S.
When not stuffing her face with pani puri or craving the foods of her childhood, Nidhi Chaudhry is a freelance writer based in Singapore. Follow her @nimbupaanii.