Mumbai's best chaat
Mumbai’s best chaat -- Recommended: Punjab Sweet House paani puri
In New Delhi it's called gol gappa. In Kolkata it's called phuchka. In Orissa it’s called gupchup. In Mumbai it’s called paani puri.
This pan-Indian street food favorite drew a lot of debate among our Best Eats judges for the regional variations it brought to the plate and which they thought was the best.
But when in Mumbai, do as the Mumbaikars do, was the mantra our panel finally adopted.
The dish itself is a simple combination of a crisp, hollowed-out bite-sized puri filled with chickpeas and potatoes and dipped into tamarind water mixed with chilies and chaat masala.
Dripping wet and overflowing with the spicy, flavorful water, you pop it into your mouth and crunch into it all at one go and wait for the explosion of tastes that follows.
Swallow. Repeat. Standing right there on the street side.
“Depending on your spice-handling capacity, it may leave you teary eyed, but it will definitely leave you wanting more,” says Sanjiv Khamgaonkar, Best Eats judge and food blogger. "And after you’re done, drinking the leftover water (paani) in the plate is a tradition."
If you’re worried about contracting typhoid, don't be. The paani puris at Punjab Sweet House are made with mineral water.
As an indication of what we're willing to risk, and why it's so worth it, paani puri off the street makes a fine example.
Dheeraj Arcade, opposite Jude Wine Shop, Pali Naka, Bandra (W); +91 (22) 2640 2221. Open daily 9 a.m.-10 p.m.
Mumbai’s best chaat -- Recommended: Sev and bhel puri at Chowpatty beach
Two other classics in the pantheon of Mumbai street food greats, sev and bhel puri, can be found at your neighborhood chaatwalla as well as the finest restaurants in five-star hotels.
But to eat chaat at Chowpatty beach is to pay obeisance to this quintessential Mumbai food: sun, sand and sev puri go together perfectly.
For the uninitiated, sev puri consists of little fried disks of flour topped with diced cooked potatoes, onions, crispy sev and three chutneys: tamarind, chili and garlic.
Some stalls also add diced tomatoes and green mango bits, when in season. The bhel version is made with puffed rice instead of the disks.
“Savory, spicy, sweet, sour -- four flavors in one bite, each with its own impact,” says Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, Best Eats judge and food blogger. And the end result is usually, “spicy, yummy satisfaction!”
Try any of the beach stalls at Chowpatty, Marine Drive. Open daily 10 a.m.-midnight.
Mumbai’s best chaat -- Winner: Anil’s Bombay Sandwich
No ordinary sandwich this, it’s a food metaphor for what Mumbai is -- crowded and tasty.
Crammed with thin slices of boiled potato, cucumber, onion, tomato and beetroot and then sandwiched between slices of unhealthy white bread lathered with butter and special chili-mint chutney, even if this masterpiece isn't officially "chaat" we're bending the rules to make it fit.
You can order the Bombay sandwich plain or toasted, and with or without a dollop of pumpkin sauce.
Best of all, it's chopped into bite-size pieces before being wrapped in newspaper and handed over to you.
Rushina Munshaw-Ghildiyal, Best Eats judge and food blogger loves biting into the many layers.
"I look forward to the little bits that fall out and collect in the newspaper, all doused in chutney and sauce, to be picked with the fingers and relished," she says.
A bit like Mumbai, you've gotta get your hands dirty to really enjoy it.
There’s often more than one sandwich-walla per street, but our vote for the best vendor goes to Anil, who parks outside the gates of JB Petit School in Fort.
Anil, the sandwich-walla outside the gates of J B Petit High School for Girls, Maharishi Dadhichi Marg, Fort; Open 8 a.m.-11 p.m., timings may vary.