Street food. Street food is the thing that people rave about and also give warnings for. When diving into the world of street food, a little voice from orientation pops into my head reminding me to examine everything, avoid anything to do with things washed in water, and generally be cautious. It can seem a bit challenging to know what is correct or not. If I’m not too careful, I could end up sick. If I am extremely too careful, I could miss some of the best food in the city.
After deeming the food “okay to eat”, I then have figure out what it is exactly that I will be eating. I ask the vendor, but sometimes the simple name of the food is not enough. Thankfully, the wonderful staff at the program house exists to assist in my quest to know street food. After passing a few rupees, 20 (30 cents) at the most, to the vendor I take the first few bites. The best part of street food is trying and loving a new, amazing food. Sometimes it is not my first priority, but it is a great surprise when I do.
One of my favorite street foods has been what I think is bread pakora. Sonja, Carmen, and I were using the ATM. Outside was a small cart filled with fried bread. Sonja first suggested that we try it. I am happy she did. It was filled with onions, sweet raisins, and potatoes. At first we called it the fried sandwich. We came back more and more. Before I knew it, bread pakora was in my “street food repertoire”.
What I feel is different about street food is how there is so many small stands that sell so many different varieties of food. However each person has their specific food that they sell. You go to this person for samosas, but go to another person for jalebiis. There doesn’t seem to be a one stop shop for street food and that’s what makes it wonderful.
I also want to share a bit of my favorite street food with you.
I figured this should be the one that I address first. Chaat has its origins in Uttar Pradesh (the state that Varanasi is in). The chaat in Varanasi is apparently famous in India. Chaat, from what I understand, have some component of fried bread or dough. There are many varieties of chaat with varying elements. After learning about chaat, I realized that I actually have had some of these varieties. I already discussed bread pakora which is chaat. They are actually some of my top favorites. For example:
Samosa (समोसा) : A beautiful fried triangle of dough filled with potatoes, onions, peas, spices, etc. It’s one of my favorites and our Samosa seller, or vala (वाला), is set up about 15 feet from where I live.
Aloo tikka (आलू टिक्का): I first tried this when Sonja and I were feeling very hungry later in the night (8:30pm). We found the first stand we could and ate whatever they served (within the orientation guidelines of course). What they served was allo tikka. Aloo means potato and tikka means a small piece. It was so good and spicy- maybe a bit too spicy for me!
Panipuri (पानीपूरी): Sonja and I also sampled the panipuri at the same place where we ate aloo tikka. The vendor told us what it was, assured it was the best. Panipuri can be translated as “water bread”. What was in our Panipuri, or golgappa, was yogurt and very spicy spices. We were instructed to eat it in one bite, which proved to be a bit more of a challenge. Panipuri is not really my favorite, but it’s a great little snack for the go.
Moving away from the chaat, we come to one of my favorite street foods. Momos are Tibetan/Nepali/Bhutanese/Sikkimese dumplings. I have a great love of dumplings, so these momos go straight to my heart. All of the momos I have had in Varanasi are vegetarian. Every time, it seems like I am eating meat. If this is what being vegetarian is like, sign me up!
I’ve also had momos in Dareeling and Sikkim. They are phenomenal! I have been craving momos every since I got back from traveling there.
The sweets in India, particularly Varanasi are everywhere. I need to learn where I can find them in the US, because I can’t imagine my day to day life without them now. Jalebis were one of the first sweets I met in India. They are pretzel shaped deep fried flour that is later soaked in syrup. They are chewy, warm, and incredibly sweet.
Food to Try
Now there is a lot of food I didn’t cover yet. There are a few things I have seen and I really want to try still. I don’t know the names of these foods. So I will “call them as I see them”.
I’ve seen some noodles that are being fried on the street food stands. I don’t know what is in them, but they look good.
This isn’t the American-ized Chinese food. This is much different. It really reminds me of the time when I was in Xi’an, China and my friend and I ate this street food called Dan Bing (蛋餅).
What this looks like to me is an egg wrapped in a crepe-esque dough with many spices and even some noodles. I have seen this in the Lanka area and I really need to try it!
I’m sure by the time some of you read this, I’ll have eaten more street food and have many more things to rave about. However this is just all of the street food I have tried. I have not even mentioned the Indian food that is not on the street! I’m excited where my stomach takes me.