Vada pav, chaat, and the Bombay Sandwich – a trip to Mumbai isn’t complete without sampling these street food classics. A local writer highlights where to find the best street food in Mumbai
The sheer variety of dishes available on Mumbai’s streets is often overlooked. This is a city on the move, and the roadside is an ideal place to grab a bite, or often an entire meal. Alongside Mumbai’s best restaurants, street food is an integral part of life in this city, especially if you work an office job or frequent a co-working space that engenders a long commute.
The most well-known dishes – like pav bhaji and the Bombay sandwich – inspire the kind of well-meaning tribalism that only food can. Truthfully, though, bad street food doesn’t survive in the city, so while different vendors may add their own flourishes, the basic flavours are always intact, and are why they work so well.
There are a wide variety of neighbourhoods to check out, with thronging street food markets and roads lined with casual cafes cooking a smorgasbord of offerings that goes beyond vada pav and chaat. Some of these are quarters that are home to specific religious or cultural communities, which means the dishes on offer are regional specialties that aren’t available elsewhere, like the Sindhi dish dal pakwan, or the Bohri food that’s found around Khara Tank Road. Whatever the case, each is unique and rewarding to explore.
Best for: Alleys and lanes lined with great north Indian options across food and drink
Address: Choithram Gidwani Road, Chembur East, Chembur
Along a broad arterial road, there’s a mix of stores and food stalls in Chembur’s Camp area that have built a reputation for serving family recipes over generations. Refugees from Sindh and Punjab moved to the area during the partition of India, and the neighbourhood remains an excellent place to sample a variety of local food. Along the main drag, lanes and alleyways reveal freshly-made cottage cheese, ready-to-eat kebabs and snacks ranging from samosas to chaat. It’s an area that rewards exploration but there are certain stalwarts worth stopping at.
Start at Vig Refreshment, a local institution dating back to 1952, with exposed brick walls and simple metal seating for an order of dal pakwan. The dish is usually eaten for breakfast, but it’s worth having any time of day as you dip the crisp, flaky pakwan (a deep-fried dough) into the dal (made of chickpeas), with the local flourish – a deep brown spoon of potato curry for added flavour.
Walk over to Hardev Kripa Amritsari Kulcha, a literal hole in the wall where the third generation of the Mehra family serves up freshly made kulchas (an unleavened pita-like bread), accompanied by channa (chickpeas), pickled onions and chillies. It’s a filling meal and a small slice of Punjab in the city.
End with a gulab jamun, a fried dough ball oozing sugar syrup, and among India’s best-loved confectionery. Pick a box up at Jhama Sweets, where shelves are also stacked with packets of dry fruit, mini samosas and chivda (a fried snack mix). Counters highlight tempting Punjabi staples like dahi bhalla chaat, freshly made samosas and mathi – a traditional, fried biscuit flavoured with spices. In the evenings, Gopal’s Mutton and Chicken begins to hang up its skewered meats to signal that it’s open for business. Order the bright red reshmi kebabs or brave the kheema-bheja pattice – a dish of minced mutton with chopped goat brain – cooked together with eggs on a tawa (griddle).
Marine Lines Khao Gully
Best for: Street stalls selling pav bhaji and Indian Chinese
Address: Sir Vitthaldas Thackersey Marg, New Marine Lines, Churchgate
‘Khao gully’ literally translates to ‘food street’, and this one, at New Marine Lines, offers up everything. Lined with stalls, the narrow street is a short walk from Churchgate station, at the end of the train line in South Mumbai. Discover a mix of Mumbai street food staples and inventive twists on traditional dishes, piled high with vegetables, sauces and cheese to create varied flavours and textures. Favourites include Lenin Pav Bhaji Center, named after the owner and not the Russian revolutionary – get the butter or regular pav bhaji here. Next door is Lalit Bhel Stall, where locals line up for orders of dahi puri, made with warm ragda (mashed potatoes in a gravy) encased in deep-fried puri and topped with dahi (yoghurt). Wash it all down with a seasonal fruit juice from Hans Ras Juice Center. There are a host of other stalls that offer everything from crisp dosas and fried rice to shawarma and momo dumplings. For the more intrepid, try a version of your local favourite dripping in cheese, mayonnaise, or doused in Szechuan sauce.
Best for: Innovative, affordable and filling street food
Address: Bhaktivedanta Swami Marg, Gulmohar Road, Suvarna Nagar, Vile Parle (W)
The area around Mithibai college feels more like a construction site than a culinary destination, with a flyover being built between two colleges that are on opposite sides of the street. The educational institutes mean there are always hungry students looking for cheap meals, which makes it an excellent place to sample some of the city’s best street food.
Anand Stall is best-known for its buttery vada pav, but its offering also extends to sandwiches, frankies (an Indian wrap), dosas and pav bhaji. Next door, Gayatri Snacks and Cold Drink Centre is where to order a classic Mumbai sandwich — filled with potato, beetroot, tomato, onion and cucumber on bread generously coated with butter and chutney. Another must order is the jinni dosa, which can be found at all of the eateries in the area. The four mini dosas are chopped out of a regular sized dosa, and rolled like a wrap, filled with cheese, vegetables and zingy Szechuan sauce. Wash it all down with a cloyingly sweet but much-loved Ferrero Rocher milkshake at Ice n Rolls, which is further down the same street.
Mohammad Ali Road
Best for: Food from the Bohra community/meat-led dining with a focus on Muslim cuisine
Address: Husainyah Marg, Bohri Mohallaha, Bhendi Bazaar
This is an area of the city best known for its street food during Ramadan, but it is a great place for meaty delights throughout the year. On Khara Tank Road, you’ll find a Bohri enclave serving up excellent community-specific dishes. Vegetarians will have limited options, but for the carnivore inclined there is a wide variety of meat-focused dishes, including offal. Stalwarts like Haji Tikka serve up tender and smoky chicken tikka and melt-in-the-mouth mutton seekh kebab, both cooked over charcoal. More adventurous offerings include kidney, liver and even cow udder kebabs. Wash the meal down with a neon orange sherbat from Imam Sherbatwala, an institution just across the street. Made of milk, food colouring, sugar, ice and topped with diced watermelon – it’s cloyingly sweet and cooling.
Visit Firoz Farsan for a patrel biryani – made using colocassia leaves and a meat, which can be chicken, mutton or beef depending on the day. Together, they create an innovative ‘biryani’ that’s made without rice. This is also where those stocking up on snacks for the house grab their take-home packets of soya sticks and chivda. End with a stop at Shabbir’s Tawakkal Sweets, where you can order a flaky malai khaja, filled with sweet cream. Still hungry? Try any of the tawa (large griddle) items – we’re partial to the baida roti and either gurda (kidney) or bheja (brain) masala.
Vile Parle Station
Best for: Sampling of regional cuisine
Address: Dashrathlal Joshi Road, Vile Parle
In Mumbai, convenient, on-the-go food can be found in close proximity to the city’s local train stations. At Vile Parle, on the west side of the railway line you’ll find cheap eats interspersed with stores selling snacks, clothing and daily necessities. Steps away from the station, order a dabeli (a local sandwich) from Nikita Fast Food, which is at once sweet and spicy, crunchy and yielding. The traditional Gujarati snack comprises a boiled potato filling loaded into a pav with tart and sour chutneys topped with crunchy sev and peanuts. It’s a burst of flavour and easy to eat thanks to the crusty pav that holds everything in.
From there, it’s a short walk to Gopal and Sweety Chinese, two food stalls on Bajaj Road. At the former, order the mouth-puckering, tangy bhel and bite-sized pani puri, filled with warm ragda (a gravy made with chickpeas) laced with tart coriander. At the Chinese stall, forget any notions of dim sum or hand-pulled noodles – Indian Chinese features mass-produced sauces that are used to add spice (and colour and flavour) to very local concoctions like Chinese bhel, American chop suey and Manchurian fried rice. Expect a medley of vegetables and varied textures (the bhel has fried noodles for crunch), best followed by a sugarcane juice from one of the vendors in the area to cap off the experience.
Signature street food dishes
Don’t leave Mumbai without sampling these must-try street food classics.
A pav (fluffy bread roll) stuffed with a deep fried potato dumpling, a smear of green chilli, and a sprinkle of fiery red garlic chutney. It’s easy to prepare, easy to eat, and packs a punch. Commonly found at railway stations, in khao gullies (‘eating streets’) and at corner stalls in crowded office areas.
The Bombay Sandwich
A local creation filled with sliced onions, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, beetroot, tomatoes, lots of butter, and a generous dollop of green coriander and mint chutney. Grated cheese is sometimes used as a garnish, while others prefer to top with sev (crunchy bits of noodles made from chickpea flour). Usually toasted in a cast-iron grill.
A thick vegetable curry made with tomatoes and potatoes, with plenty of onions, a sprinkling of vegetables, and served with a soft white roll on the side. The sauce should have a sheen to it thanks to a slick of melted butter added at the end. The best have a rich red colour from the tangy tomatoes, but each stall serves theirs differently. They’re all meant to be mopped up with the pav, which has a slight char from the tawa, yet still soft and pliant enough to scoop up the bhaji.
A square roti parcel stuffed with minced chicken or lamb, often with an egg broken into it to provide a rich, silky texture. It’s a popular late-night snack, but also makes for an equally good fuel-up during the day.
An all-encompassing term that includes sev puri, pani puri and bhel puri among others. The best chaat covers a range of textures and flavours — crunchy, tangy, sweet, salty and sour – and is best eaten quickly to stop it going soggy. Ingredients can include spicy green chutney, tart tamarind chutney, chilli powder, lentils or beans, and lashings of soothing yoghurt. Everyone has their favourites, but a pani puri – a crunchy, deep-fried unleavened bread filled with spicy coriander water, potatoes, chilli powder, chaat masala and tamarind chutney — should be top of your list. Other options include the deep-fried dahi batata puri, a crunchy flat puri topped with boiled potatoes and generous drizzles of tamarind, spicy chutney and yoghurt. There’s also the more filling samosa chaat, which is topped with chutneys and masalas.
There are a lot of dishes, all locally invented, that are great to try for those curious about Indian Chinese. Chicken lollipop and American chop suey are must-trys. The dishes are distinguished by their almost radioactive red colour, which comes from using cheap Szechuan sauce as an ingredient. While the lollipop is a starter and consists of a deep-fried chicken wing ready to dipped in sauce, an American chop suey consists of crisp fried noodles topped with vegetables in a soy and Szechuan sauce, for a satisfying textural meal.
A Mumbai twist on the more well-known chhole, ragda is made with white peas and potatoes. The resulting gravy dish is eaten in many ways. It can be mopped up with pav, eaten with fried potato tikkis, added as a component of a chaat or just with a spoon. Its versatility makes it a street food favourite.