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Bombay Street Food at Home


Abra
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Last night my husband and I were thrilled to be treated to a dinner of Bombay street food. Worm@work's parents are visiting from Mumbai, and both are formidable cooks, as is w@w herself. Mr. w@w distinguished himself in the cocktail department, while we were mainly notable for the amount we ate, and our extensive finger-licking. As much Indian food as I've eaten in my life, these dishes were completely different, all vegetarian, all reflecting the fine art of turning humble and inexpensive ingredients into delectable treats, not to mention serving them on the street in massive quantities.

We began with

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a drink of kokum juice sprinkled with chat masala, and some lightly spicy little fried plaintain chips. The contrast between the sweet juice, the slightly sulfurous salt in the masala, and the crisp chips perfectly set the stage for the dishes to come, which were all about textural contrast.

Next up was an amazing little bite called Pani Puri, which is an impossibly fragile crispy little puffball filled with

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potatoes, boiled mung beans, crispy chick peas, and the fine noodles called sev, then topped with date and tamarind chutney, cilantro chutney, or sweetened yogurt,

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and submerged in water flavored with mint, green chillies & spices. The trick then is to pop the whole little puri into your mouth before it drips all over you. My apologies for this and a couple of the other photos - the light was dim and comfortable, and I really needed to send a little submersible lens into the heart of the puri to do this one justice.

Next up was

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Ragda Patties, which are spiced potato patties served in a white pea curry sauce. Well, they're not exactly white, and it's not exactly a curry as we think of curry in the US, more like a pease porridge pancake, or something. The name may not translate easily, but the flavors sure did. It was gentle, comforting food that I immediately wanted to have for breakfast.

This is the photo that does the least justice to the dish

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This is Dabeli, fluffy buns stuffed with a mixture of potatoes, onions, spices, pomegranate, grapes & masala peanuts. I wish I'd composed this little sandwich so the fruit showed better, but you'll just have to imagine little bursts of red grape and pomegranate seed exploding in each bite of crisp toast, crunchy peanut, and smooth spicy potato.

Yes, fluffy white bread, otherwise known as pau, is a part of Bombay street cuisine. I was totally amazed by this idea alone, not to mention the idea of a fluffy white bread potato sandwich, Indian-style.

Being a quick learner, I was totally ready for

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Vada Pau - spiced garlic mashed potatoes fried in a chick pea flour batter and served inside a bun with the most delicious garlic chutney I've ever eaten. This was a dry chutney made of a ton of garlic ground and then fried with coconut and chick pea bits to form a pile of intensely flavored crisp, golden crumbs. Two fluffy white bread potato sandwiches, yowza! I couldn't resist having seconds of this one, which I came to regret shortly, when we had

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Pau Bhaji, a spicy mixed-vegetable dish served with bread for dipping. Traditionally a way to use up leftover vegetables, this had a mysterious and haunting sweetness that I still haven't identified. I'd need to eat a lot more of it to be sure exactly what it was. A lot more!

How did we manage room for dessert? But who in her right mind could refuse

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Kulfi. This creamy, frozen dessert made with milk and flavored with saffron, almonds & pistachio was the only thing on the menu that I've had before. But I've never had it like this, with a silken, sticky texture and absolutely no iciness. Just a smooth and slippery saffron sweetness sliding down your throat. I think my s key must be stuck!

All I can say is if anyone offers to feed you Bombay street food, take them up on it without hesitation and hurry to their house as fast as you can. It manages to be comforting and familiar and excitingly different all at once. And don't be surprised if if you see me on the Breakfast thread posting that I've taken to eating spicy Indian potato sandwiches in the early morning hours!

Edited by Abra (log)
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Wow that looks fantastic! As a vegetarian who's eaten in a lot of middling Indian restaurants (either vegetables and rice, or rice and vegetables), I'd love to be treated to a meal like that. You didn't manage to pry any recipes out of the chef did you?

Cutting the lemon/the knife/leaves a little cathedral:/alcoves unguessed by the eye/that open acidulous glass/to the light; topazes/riding the droplets,/altars,/aromatic facades. - Ode to a Lemon, Pablo Neruda

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I must mention here that we are really just home cooks with very mediocre kitchen skills but we do all share a deep love for good food and good company. My parents always fed us well despite their extremely busy schedules and to a great extent, food was the one way my otherwise shy and reticent parents managed to come out of their shell and openly display their affection for others :).

Abra & Shel were the most gracious guests possible. They were perfectly comfortable eating with their bare hands, managing to eat pani puris w/o spilling a drop and getting their tongues around the unpronouncable names of dishes and ingredients.. they'd have done any Bombayite proud!

As for the photos, Abra's photography skills are hardly to blame. Apart from the paucity of light in the room, presentation always ends up taking second place when it comes to Indian food and I can never manage to make my food look pretty somehow :). Overall, we all ate well and my parents have picked this dinner as one of the most memorable nights from this trip to the US and I have Abra & Shel to thank for the same!

-w@w

p.s. If anyone wants any recipes, please feel free to pm me.

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Pani Poori is really an amazing thing. The poori breaks in the mouth and the flavors and textures literally explode on the tongue. If done right, the sensation experienced is one that we call jug-mug (roughly akin to tingling but in a good way) and is an absolutely addicting one. It is not unheard of for some to wolf down twenty or more in a single binge....ahem....

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Kulfi.  This creamy, frozen dessert made with milk and flavored with saffron, almonds & pistachio was the only thing on the menu that I've had before.  But I've never had it like this, with a silken, sticky texture and absolutely no iciness.  Just a smooth and slippery saffron sweetness sliding down your throat.  I think my s key must be stuck!

Mmm... Recipe for the Kulfi please? I think it's something I can manage to make from ingredients on hand.

PS: I am a guy.

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Kulfi :wub:

One of the listed ingredients is corn flour.

Dumb question follows.

Is that British English for cornstarch? Or is it American English for masa harina?

Thanks in advance.

- Kim

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. - Carl Sagan

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Hi Kim,

Its cornstarch :). I went back and added some notes to make the ingredients listed a little easier to source.

-w@w

Kulfi :wub:

One of the listed ingredients is corn flour.

Dumb question follows.

Is that British English for cornstarch? Or is it American English for masa harina?

Thanks in advance.

- Kim

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Thank you Abra and worm@work! What a wonderful documenting of the meal; every dish is very appetizing and unique to me. The potato sandwiches sound great! Thank you for the recipes as well.

Would these dishes be considered chaat?

Are thare any cookbooks in English that feature this type of food?

Thanks again, ludja

"Under the dusty almond trees, ... stalls were set up which sold banana liquor, rolls, blood puddings, chopped fried meat, meat pies, sausage, yucca breads, crullers, buns, corn breads, puff pastes, longanizas, tripes, coconut nougats, rum toddies, along with all sorts of trifles, gewgaws, trinkets, and knickknacks, and cockfights and lottery tickets."

-- Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1962 "Big Mama's Funeral"

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Hi ludja,

Yep, most of these would be considered chaat (except the potato sandwiches and the kulfi probably). I haven't really used too many Indian cookbooks, especially not books that feature a lot of street food. Tarla Dalal has a book called Chaat that I found to be reasonable in parts but really quite poor in others. For one thing, I like books that offer some history and lore on the recipes they contain and this one really doesn't touch upon that at all. Secondly, some of the recipes don't end up tasting like they do on the streets in India and require quite a lot of tweaking to get them right. So I wouldn't recommend it heartily to someone who has had no experience eating this food before. There's a website called Mumbai-Masala that I often visit to check if my recipe seems mostly right or to look up ideas for a meal I'm planning and Ive found it to be really quite good. Albeit not as handy or informative as a cookbook, I think its a great resource as far as actual recipes are concerned.

Hope this helps.

-w@w

Thank you Abra and worm@work!  What a wonderful documenting of the meal; every dish is very appetizing and unique to me.  The potato sandwiches sound great!  Thank you for the recipes as well. 

Would these dishes be considered chaat?

Are thare any cookbooks in English that feature this type of food?

Thanks again, ludja

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Everything looks delicious! Kulfi, ragda patties and pani puri I've had before (and devoured quickly), but the rest are new and enticing. I'm imagining how good the black salt tasted with a fruit juice and how the flavors would work off each other. Thank you, w@w, for sharing recipes - I'll be making many of these soon to be sure.

Abra, even with poor lighting the photos are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing this.

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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I made kulfi yesterday. Incredibly rich tasting. So different in texture than ice cream. Denser. Silkier.

I didn't have cardamom powder but I did have cardamom seeds and a mortar and pestle. And that worked just fine. Better than fine. Great taste.

Soaking pistachios in warm water certainly does make the skins slip off easily. I had thought that the texture of nuts in a creamy dessert would be off-putting but I liked it.

I put the kulfi in my ice cream maker but it didn't seem to change the texture very much. I could have skipped this step.

I forgot to add the drop of rose water. This time.

Thank you very much for this recipe. I look forward to making it again.

- Kim

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. - Carl Sagan

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My husband loves my home made ice cream and sorbet. He'll have seconds and sometimes thirds. With the kulfi, he had one helping. Not because he didn't like it. He had one small bowlful because it was so satisfying that he didn't need more.

While searching the internet for kulfi recipes, I came across a tip that said to mix the skin that forms on the top of the milk back in.

- Kim

If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe. - Carl Sagan

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w@w & Abra: Absolutely divine! I love this non-westernised type of proper Indian food!

I have a couple of questions if you don't mind my asking :-). Are the puri's themselves prebought? Is it like a batter that you buy and fry yourself, or a prebought shell? Do you serve them at room temperature or heat them in some way?

Finally, is there any chance of the recipes for Dabeli, Vada Pau and Pau Bhaji?

Thanks again for the recipes, I am going to try them all this coming weekend, should be a treat!

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