10 best street foods in Mumbai
Patties, puris, kebabs and lassis … Mumbai is the city of a million hawkers. Monisha Rajesh picks the tastiest street food in town
• As featured in the Mumbai city guide
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"Your arteries will tighten at the sight, but your stomach will thank you." Pav Bhaji being made. Photograph: Rajkumar Kandukuri/India Pictures on flickr/All rights reserved
Pav bhaji @ Sardar's
A five-minute walk from Mumbai Central station, Sardar's Refreshments specialises in straight-from-the-streets, finger-licking pav bhaji. It's hidden behind white barriers, but mutter "Pav bhaji?" to any passerby and they will point you in the right direction. Two metal plates arrive within minutes: one containing thick vegetable masala straddled by a slab of butter, the other with fluffy rolls so well buttered the bread's yellow. Your arteries will tighten at the sight, but your stomach will thank you. Squeeze some lemon on top and dig in with your fingers.
• Sardar's, 166-A Tardeo Road Junction, Tulsiwadi, near Tardeo bus depot, +91 22 2494 0208, £1 a serving. Open noon-2am
Kebabs @ Sarvi
Mohammed Ali Road is the benchmark for skewered kebabs, which hang from smoking stalls like sizzling curtains. But towards the north end, veer left on to Dimtimkar Road and head to Sarvi. It's been around for 90 years, has no sign, looks fire damaged, and grills the most tender beef seekh kebabs in the city. Crisp on the outside and melting in the middle, with a hint of mint – rumour has it they grind papaya into the meat. Get there early evening, as they sell out fast.
• Sarvi, 184/196 Dimtimkar Road, opposite Nagpada Police Station, Byculla West, +91 98 3353 3305, from Rs78 (£1) for four kebabs. Open 9.30am-11.30pm
Vada Pav @ Anand
It's every Mumbaikar's grab-and-go snack. Potato patties mashed with garlic, chillies and coriander are dipped in chickpea flour, fried golden, then laid in "pav" – a springy white bap that's well buttered, spread with coriander chutney and sprinkled with garlic and chilli powder. Everyone from students to businessmen flock to the Anand stall, under a purple and green awning, which whips up more than a thousand a day. An added touch is a plate of rock-salted fried green chillies, which aren't nearly as fiery as you might think. Cool off with mini bottles of sweet lassi from the stall to the left.
• Anand, opposite Mithibai College, Gulmohar Road, Vile Parle West, 20p a bap. Open 7.30am-11pm
Pani puri @ Elco Pani Puri Centre
The craft is part of the fun: vendors poke a thumb into a crisp fried sphere, fill it with potato, chickpeas, onion and sprouted lentils, then dunk it into a sweet-and-sour mix of tamarind and jaggery, then a liquid blend of coriander, mint and garam masala. Eat it whole, and unless you have a stomach of steel, don't go anywhere but Elco Pani Puri Centre, where they use mineral water. Pull up a red plastic stool and sit on the pavement with Bandra's locals, and the occasional Bollywood actress.
• Elco Pani Puri Centre, 2/A Elco Market, 46 Hill Rd, Bandra West, +91 22 2645 7677, 50p for two. Open 10am-11.30pm
Chicken tikka rolls @ Bademiya
No Mumbaikar seems to have been to Bademiya before 3am – a testament to the late-night allure of its charcoaled, meaty goodness. A glorified open-air kitchen on wheels, Bademiya sits in a backstreet directly behind the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Waiters in red aprons appear from a cloud of smoke and hand over plastic menus, but the chicken tikka rolls are the best option. Slid off skewers, the meat is wrapped in a steaming roomali roti – as thin and soft as a handkerchief – and topped with strips of fried onion. No sauce required, its juices are enough.
• Bademiya, Tulloch Rd, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, £1.50 a roll. Open 5pm-4am
Bhel puri @ Sharmajee's and Badshah's
Bhel puri is one of the most common all-day snacks: a crunchy, cold, sweet-and-sour mix of puffed rice, sev, chopped onion and potato, and tamarind chutney. It has to be mixed and eaten on the spot, and most vendors will concoct their own variations. Chowpatty Beach is the home of bhel puri, where it should be eaten while strolling along the shore. Try Sharmajee's (No 22) or Badshah's (No 11), amid the cluster of stalls opposite the Levi's Store, where rugs are spread out and bhel puri "touts" will bring it over to you.
• Sharmajee's and Badshah's, Chowpatty Beach, near Charni Road station, 30p per plate. Open all day
Kheema Pav @ Olympia Coffee House
Forget trawling Colaba's tourist spots for fry-ups and cereal, and try breakfast the way the locals do it – with a plate of fried minced meat and hunks of bread to mop it up. Directly opposite the infamous Leopold's, Olympia does saucers of delicious masala kheema – and don't forget, this is a coffee house, so top it off with a short, sweet cup. Olympia is a local Muslim haunt with not a female in sight, but female visitors shouldn't be put off: the waiters and customers are friendly, courteous and no one bats an eyelid.
• Olympia Coffee House, Rahim Mansion, 1 SB Singh Rd, Colaba, +91 22 2202 1043, £1 a plate. Open 7am-midnight
Channa bhatura @ Cream Centre
As a rule, restaurants with laminated menus showing photos of their food aren't to be trusted. Cream Centre is an exception. It does a version of channa bhatura that's a bit on the oily side, but it's rated the best in Mumbai by the hordes of students, families and workers on breaks. Sit tight in your booth as a football-sized, deep-fried puri arrives alongside a bowl of creamy masala chickpeas, diced potatoes and onions. Poke a finger in the top and watch the puri deflate slowly into a chewy bread for scooping up the masala.
• Cream Centre, Fulchand Niwas 25/B Chowpatty Sea Face, +91 22 2367 9222, £2 a serving. Open noon-11.30pm
Crab @ Mahesh Lunch Home
Strictly not street food, but it's a sin to come to Mumbai and not eat crab. Trishna is excellent, but full of expats and tourists, so try Mahesh, around the corner from the Mocambo Café, in Fort. Order the jumbo butter garlic crab with a roomali roti to wipe up the crunchy bits of garlic and chilli. If you're unsure about portions, waiters will happily bring your crab to the table to wave a leg at you. There's only one way to eat it – with a bib and both hands, making as much mess as you like.
• Mahesh Lunch Home, 8-B Cawasji Patel Street, Fort, +91 22 2287 0938, £10. Call for opening hours
Juices and milkshakes @ Bachelorr's
Bachelorr's (yes, they've added an extra "r") is the definitive hangout for smoothies, shakes and juices. It's been in business since the 1940s and has generated a loyal following, who gather by the roadside kiosk during warm evenings, perched on car bonnets and in open boots. The cream-and-strawberry milkshake is a classic, but it also churns out numerous chocolate variations – from Classic Chocolate and Black Gold Premium to Liquid Marble – along with a host of fresh lime, coconut water and lychee juices.
• Bachelorr's, Chowpatty Sea Face, opposite Birla Krida Kendra, near Charni Rd station, +91 22 2368 1408, from £1-2. Open 3pm-11pm
• Monisha Rajesh is the author of the blog Around India in 80 Trains
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