Mumbai's Snacks Are Legendary—Here's How to Make Them at Home
Salty, sweet, crunchy, savory chaats are chef Maneet Chauhan’s favorite things about Mumbai. Here are her riffs on some iconic favorites.
When I go to a market in Mumbai, the first thing that hits me is the combination of smells and sounds. There’s always somebody making pav bhaji, a Mumbai specialty consisting of a soft, buttered roll served with spicy mashed vegetables, clanking his metal spoons and calling “Come buy pav bhaji!” to attract customers. Other vendors might be making dosas, sending the smell of butter sizzling on the griddle through the air. You can taste the entire country of India in just one market—one stand might serve Mumbai-influenced mutton kebabs while the next one over has pakoras from Delhi. There could be chow mein from Eastern India, chole bhature (spiced chickpeas with puffy fried bread) from the north, and dosas from the south. And there are newer creations, too, like veggie burgers with fries. Everywhere, there are people selling bangles and local artifacts. It’s absolutely the most beautiful chaos on the planet.
To me, the markets are about indulgence. Last spring, when I was in Mumbai, I met up with my college friends at Mohammed Ali Road, a snacker’s paradise near the Chippi Chawl area. It’s one of Mumbai’s most famous khau gallis (“eat streets”) and is lined with food stalls. My friends and I went from one to another, tasting anything that came our way: baida roti (an egg-fried roti with mutton filling), mutton kheema pav (minced meat served with warm buttered buns), and, of course, chaats galore.
Chaat is a category of Indian cuisine that roughly means “snacks.” The word “chaat” is Hindi for “to lick.” This is a literal translation: The flavor combinations of chaats are so amazing that you’re licking your plate, your bowl, your hand! I love that there’s so much variety within chaats.
Chaats and the world of street food that you find at the markets throughout India (pictured above) are the inspiration for my newest restaurant, Chaatable, in Nashville, and for my forthcoming cookbook, Chaat: Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India (Clarkson Potter, October 2020). They can be sweet or savory, crunchy or creamy, spicy or salty ... though to tell you the truth, many of my favorites—as in the recipes that follow—are all of those things at once!
For making these recipes at home, Maneet Chauhan keeps the following ingredients at hand. In Indian cuisine, “masala” refers to a blend of spices. While many chefs and home cooks prepare custom masalas, MDH is a high-quality brand; look for their spice blends at Indian markets or online.
Panch Poron: A blend of seeds, including mustard, nigella, cumin, fennel, and fenugreek
Chaat Masala: A powdered blend of spices often sprinkled over chaat for a finishing tart, sweet, and spicy punch
Kashmir Chile Powder: A mild chile powder
Pav Bhaji Masala: A mixture of a multitude of spices, including coriander seeds, ground chile, and mango powder
Garam Masala: A popular blend of warm spices that often includes cumin, cinnamon, and cloves
Paneer: A fresh Indian cheese with a texture similar to firm tofu
Boondi: A crunchy cereal and snack made from puffed chickpea flour
Jaggery: A dark, unrefined form of sugar made from palm or sugar cane
Mango Pulp: Pureed canned mango; Kesar mango pulp is slightly sweeter than Alphonso mango pulp, which has a delicate, rich flavor.
You do not get strawberry-rhubarb chaat in India—this is completely my take on it. This sweet and spicy salad adds several other flavors into the mix, like mint leaves, fresh ginger, and red chile powder. The rhubarb chutney gives sweetness. The masala boondi, a puffed chickpea cereal, gives crunchiness. When possible, I like to use half red strawberries and half white strawberries to provide another layer of sweetness (and an additional pop of color), but the key is to use the freshest ones available.
Get the Recipe: Strawberry-Rhubarb Chaat
Spring Pea Chaat With Lemon Raita
One of my favorite chaats is muttar chaat, a savory, crunchy pea salad with lots of different textures and flavors. (“Muttar” means peas.) I put my own spin on traditional muttar chaat with this three-pea version that includes sugar snap peas, snow peas, and shelled English peas, all cooked together until tender. The peas are topped with a tangy lemon raita and a spicy, herbaceous mango-mint chutney. The tartness and sweetness of the toppings are what make this chaat really fun.
Get the Recipe: Spring Pea Chaat with Lemon Raita
Mumbai is known for its pav bhaji. “Pav” is the roll, and “bhaji” is the mixture of vegetables. In Mumbai, pav bhaji vendors cook the bhaji on a big griddle. They toast the bread in a dollop of butter to caramelize the outside and garnish the platter with masala, cilantro, and onions. At Chaatable, we make our own pav, but store-bought works just as well. Our bhaji is a mixture of seasonal vegetables, like cauliflower, cabbage, green peppers, peas, potatoes, and tomatoes, plus lots of spices. And lots of butter.
Get the Recipe: Pav Bhaji
Masala Paneer Kathi Rolls
When you buy a kathi roll—usually a kebab in a fresh flatbread—at a market in Mumbai, it’s wrapped in foil and meant to be eaten on the go: a true street food. The best part about a kathi roll is the contrast in textures, which are highlighted in my vegetarian version. There’s soft, warmed cheese in a spiced yogurt marinade, charred bell peppers and onion, and a cool, crunchy, tangy cabbage salad. It’s all held together by the wrap: a flaky, chewy, still-toasty-from-the-oven paratha flatbread.
Get the recipe: Masala Paneer Kathi Rolls
Mango-Cashew Kulfi Pops
Kulfi, a super-creamy, eggless Indian ice cream that often comes in ice pop form, is perfect for eating while wandering around a bazaar. My kulfi recipe involves soaking cashews overnight, draining them, and blending the nuts with condensed milk, mint, and cardamom seeds. The liquid that’s extracted from this cashew mixture gets whisked together with more condensed milk, mango pulp, heavy cream, saffron, and salt, and then frozen into ice pop molds. The sprinkling of pistachios adds a fun crackle and extra nuttiness.
Get the Recipe: Mango-Cashew Kulfi Pops