Friday, April 16, 2010

Indian Fast Food

I categorize Indian fast food into either dhabas or street food. Dhabas are usually road side eateries with a fast food feel. They serve meals, but don't have the ambiance to match fine dining. Street food consists of vendors selling items from a cart or out of a booth. Some of the best food can be found at places that don't even have a sign out front. Anything else is a restaurant, and not really fast food, in my opinion.

Street Food

Taco Bell in Pushkar, India
Pushkar's Taco Bell

Most street food places do not require a name, borrowed from a US chain or not.

Street food
Street food in Whitefield

Some street food is delicious, even if the establishment is not that clean.

Masala Puri Off The Street
Delicious. Just close your eyes and try not to think about the dirty hands which prepared it

Jaisalmer street food
Street food in Jaisalmer - not clean, not delicious

And, it is a shame that most foods are regional. I sampled shakkarkandi (here is a recipe) while in Delhi and fell in love with the dish. Simple: roasted sweet potatoes, cubed, then doused with lime juice, then dashed with masala spices. While no vendors sold this dish in Bangalore, Anjali found sweet potatoes and would make this from time to time, and this yummy meal has been served at home in LA now as well.


The Dhaba and The Hotel

I used to laugh when I saw signs for hotels in India, which seems to be synonymous with restaurant. A place to eat is a hotel. I began to second guess myself, thinking that perhaps hotel had an alternate definition. Looking it up in the dictionary, I found hotel to have one meaning, "a building where people stay, paying for their rooms and meals." At first glance, it seems that I was right and that Indians are using the term incorrectly. But, the "paying for their meals" part fits. Whatever the case, don't expect to stay the night at many Indian hotels, they don't have rooms.

Hotel Rolex
Hotel Rolex - no rooms, no watches (Mysore, India)

Then you have dhabas. Road side stands would cook for truckers in Punjab, and the idea spread throughout India, usually bringing Punjabi-style food with it. These side-of-the-road eateries serve some delicious, spicy food. Even though I never got a chance to visit Pune, there supposedly is a dhaba there where you actually sit on chairs made from truck tires. One place to eat near where I worked, which was a technical campus, is called The Geeky Dhaba.

the Geeky dhaba
The Geeky Dhaba

We stopped at a dhaba in Tamil Nadu called Hotel Sri Punjabi's Dhaba. Just to cover all their bases, they also claimed to serve Chinese food. The extensive menu, quite impressive, was a complete facade, as they only served about five South Indian dishes.

A Dhaba in Tamil Nadu

At least this fast food place did not try to lie about what they served. The place is just called Fast Food. If you see this place on the side of the road, I recommend you just keep driving!

Worst fast food EVAR

Come to India for the Food

When I studied history as a young school kid, I learned two things about spices: world trade was based on spice and many wars were fought over spices (or at least the control of land or trade routes). I never understood how that could be important. After just a few months in India, I finally understood what spice did to "spice" up food. If they had just brought garbanzo beans to class and cooked them in two ways, one with salt and pepper and one with Indian magic spices, I would have immediately understood. Hell, I would have signed up for battle to protect my country's interest in the spice trade. No, wait, I would have captained a ship to travel to India, sampling dishes at the source!

Here are some photos of foods in India, which are available only in certain regions, or are known to be better in one region than in another. For example, vada pav is something that people claim is better in Mumbai than anywhere else.

Amritsar Visit: Dead Man's Skin
Mango, dried and spiced, called Dead Man's Skin (Amritsar, Punjab)

Chilies! (Vary by area - these are from Karnataka)

Mirchi pakora in Jaisalmer
Mirchi pakora (Rajasthan)

Fish curry
Meen (fish), put over puffy rice (Kerala)

Alright, now I am hungry!


  1. This is real fast food of typical Indian people which is incomparable with modern fast food like Pizza, Pasta, burger, etc. Now people change their taste and food to Italian Cuisine and other varieties.

  2. Those catering to families and seniors usually offer small private rooms with private baths, like a budget hotel without the housekeeping.

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