Holidaying in a city is incomplete if you don’t try the street food of the place. If monuments are the soul, street food is the lifeline. Eating out  in Mumbai is as much about the city’s culture as it is about the food. Here’s a list of the top 10 foods that define Mumbai. Whether you’re shopping in Mumbai, are starry-eyed and here to make it big in tinsel town, or are a tourist lured by the Mumbai tourism department, these 10 dishes will form an essential part of your life in the city.

P.S. - Writing this article was torturous, and I had to make frequent trips to the office pantry while writing it.

1. Pav Bhaji

Like daal baati is to Rajasthan, and sarson ka saag to Punjab, Pav Bhaji is to Maharashtra. Mashed steamed vegetables cooked with loads of spices and butter, and spread on lightly fried pao. And no matter how small a shack might be, the helping of butter is always generous. Having Pav Bhaji at Chaupati is as essential to Mumbai sightseeing as seeing the Gateway of India.

2. Vada Pav

Songs have been written on this one. Balls of boiled potatoes with fresh coriander, green chillies, hint of ginger garlic, deep fried. Sandwiched between two halves of a pav with a very amazing chilli garlic chutney.

3. Pani Puri

As famous as the beaches of Mumbai, pani puri is the most mouth-watering street food in probably the whole of India. Part of the desirability of the item is the fact that it is served in an on-the-move fashion — the ‘bhaiya’ cracks open the puri and stuffs it with onions, potato and chickpeas. And when he dips the entire thing in tangy imli water, you are ready to catch the snack in your plate and gobble it up in one go. Golgappas in Delhi and puchkas in Kolkata, it’s a hit everywhere.

4. Brun maska

It is, in the most basic of descriptions, bread and butter, but it couldn’t be more different. The bun is actually gulti pao - a bread unique to Mumbai, hard and crumbly on the outside and soft inside. Butter (maska) is spread over it generously, along with little sprinkled sugar. Wash it down with chai, coffee, or orange juice, and you’ve got yourself a meal.

5. Bhel Puri

This extremely popular snack originated on the streets of Bombay. Bhel Puri has become synonymous with Bombay so much so that those Bhel Puri packets are named ‘Bombay Bhel Puri’. Puffed rice, papdi, sev, onions, potatoes, tomatoes — all tossed in lemon juice, tamarind and mint chutney. Take the drool back inside.

6. The Bombay Sandwich

Mumbai is a fast-paced city; breakfast is on the move. Every stall at every nook and corner will serve you the famous Bombay sandwich — buttered white bread with finely sliced potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and cucumber toppled with mint-coriander chutney. One of the best breakfasts in the city, the Bombay sandwich cannot disappoint you.

7. Bombil Fry

The famous Bombay Duck (Bombil Fry in the local tongue) is not a duck, it’s a fish. The story behind the name is an interesting one — the dried fish is very pungent smelling, because of which it was transported through Bombay mail (Bombay Daak) in the times of the Raj.  Soon, the mail of the entire city reeked of the fish smell, and it became common to call someone stinky “Bombay daak”. The fish is, however, a much relished delicacy. It is dried, fried, rolled in spices, and served as a starter.

8. Dabeli

Dabeli or Dabeli Pav is basically an Indianised burger with sweet and tangy potato stuffing inside. Sprinkled with khatta meetha (sweet n sour) chutney, pomegranate, sev (fried gram flour vermicelli), onions, and grapes (yes, that’s a unique combination). Available at various thelas (carts) across Mumbai, the dabeli is as mumbaiya in taste as  in name.

9. Kanda Poha

Kanda Poha is a staple dish in Maharashtra. Slightly sweet and savoury in taste, it is easy to make, easier to digest. Poha (rice flakes) is mixed with chopped fried onions, potatoes, peas, and garnished with sev, green chillies, fresh coriander, and lime juice. Unlike the other fried foods on this list, poha is low on calories and is an ideal breakfast item.

10. Pomphret 

Pomphret, the fish, sits well on the tongue of the Mumbaikars. It is found in many avatars - Fish Masala Pomphret, Tandoori Pomphret, Pomphret Kapri. The dish originates from the fishermen community of Sion Koliwada (a suburb of Mumbai), and though it is commonly served throughout the city, most prefer to grab it from the local thelas which boast of the best pomphet fry in the city. Much like pani puri that tastes best when gobbled up standing on the roadside.

There are tens of other lip-smacking street foods in Bombay. Can you think of any other?

Nishi Jain spent some precious years of her life studying English literature, editing novels, and writing newspaper articles. Then one day, as she was sitting under a tree with no branches, a rotten pancake fell on her head from the window above and she had her Newtonian moment. From then on, all she does is eat pancakes, write, and profess fake love to pastry chefs.

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