Walking out of the airport in New Delhi, India, you immediately feel that you are incredibly far from home. It was dark out so the traffic lights highlighted the way to our hotel. I felt the humid air on my skin, even though the A/C was on full blast and my stomach became queasy as the car lurched forward through the street traffic. My eyes dilated trying to absorb the vision of India in front of me and my ears took in the new sounds. It was as if each sense – sight, smell, sound, touch and taste – was intensified with every moment we stayed in India.
The staccato-like sounds of the horns reverberated through my ears. The horns were boisterous and playful and meant to signal a warning as they drove past us. Indian music blared from open apartment windows and cars as they drove past and the sound of customers bartering with shop owners became background noise. Dogs barked as they tried to defend their territory and people shouted out as they sold food on the street.
It was easy to spot the beauty in this country. Every street boasted of colour – clothing stores draped bright coloured fabrics in their window fronts and every imaginable colour was adorned on women as they scurried past us. Vegetables and fruit – yellow, green, orange and red – were laid out on the market stands as syrupy sugar dripped from the fruits to signal their ripeness. The sea of cars, mopeds and trucks as far as the eye could see made up the traffic in India. I’ll admit, when we were driving, there were a few weak moments when I squeezed my eyes shut and said a silent, white-knuckled prayer for our safety!
Our hands touched and felt the silk fabric in the stores, as it slipped through our fingers and draped our bodies. The fabrics were light, airy and elegant. Milky chai tea was offered in the clothing stores as we selected beautiful and intricate fabrics for our sarees and lenghas. We touched the jewels embedded into the marble at the Taj Mahal in Agra and pet the wild goats that roamed along street corners and outside shops. Strange hands, outstretched towards us, begged and poked at us for our attention and money. Our bodies were constantly bumping into strangers as we navigated past the people on the streets.
The smells of India were the one thing I feared most and the biggest reason why I waited so long to visit this marvelous country. I stepped off the plane, and immediately I felt dizzy and intoxicated. I was reeling and disordered as I tried to decipher the smells that intruded my senses. The combination of spices, animal dung, incense and diesel had hit me like a wall.
The smell from the food stalls was my favourite. My mouth would start drooling and my eyes glazed over as I imagined the foods being prepared. Street food stalls offered a wide range of irresistible snacks – aloo tikki (fried potato patties with spices and fresh tamarind chutney), pani puri (crunchy wafers with a spicy, tangy filling), spicy crunch chickpeas in newspaper cones and spicy puffed rice cooked with flavourful mustard oil. To resist these street foods was next to impossible. Each stall was different and the complexity of spices surprised my palate with every bite.
One of my favourite snacks is still aloo tikki. Usually served with chole (curried chickpeas) or as chaat (patties topped with yogurt and chutney), it’s just as fantastic on its own. The crispy outside layer and soft potato centre is packed with flavours and spices. Add chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves for freshness and serve with plain yogurt and tamarind chutney. Cumin, coriander powder and garam masala add amazing flavour and the chilli powder and turmeric give it a boost of colour for brightness.
This street food transports me back to India every time, I can practically hear all those car horns again!
What’s your favourite street food in India?
- 3 cups of potatoes, peeled, chopped and boiled
- ½ cup peas
- 1 small red onion, diced
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
- ½ green chilli, diced
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp clove powder
- 1 tbsp lime juice
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- mango or tamarind chutney, cilantro, red onion and lime wedges for garnish
- Mash the potatoes but not completely so that there are still chunks of potatoes remaining.
- Add in the peas, onion, cilantro, chilli pepper, spices and lime juice and mix so that everything is incorporated.
- Form patties that are 2-3 inches in diameter.
- Heat olive oil on the grill on medium-high heat then add the patties and cook on each side until crispy.
- Remove from the heat and garnish with cilantro and red onion and serve with chutney and lime wedges.