Photo Essay: Street Foods of India by Muslim Harji

Introduced by Malik Merchant

Publisher-Editor, and

After viewing a collection of Muslim Harjis’s photos of India’s street foods, I was not surprised to read in Via Rail’s latest issue of Destinations magazine that Vikram Vij, the man behind Vancouver’s iconic formal dining restaurant Vij’s, travels to India every year and spends a month in the country discovering the riches and innovations of its street food vendors. Indeed, India’s street foods were the impetus and inspiration behind Vij’s Railway Express, a food truck in downtown Vancouver that made its debut last summer.

If stomachs rumble with thoughts of innovative curries that are found at Vij’s formal and informal eateries as well as his packaged foods now available in Vancouver supermarkets, this piece about India’s street foods will take you by storm and become a useful guide should you make a trip to India. Both Muslim and his wife Nevin were tantalized by the variety of foods that they came across during their fascinating eight-week trip to India. In stark contrast to India and other cities around the world – I spent several months in Philadelphia where kababs, fruits and omelets were offered at every downtown corner – I am disappointed that in many Canadian cities including Toronto and Ottawa, food vendors are restricted from offering anything other than potato fries, greasy poutine,hotdogs and the like! There have been numerous columns written in city newspapers on the issue of the lack of a variety in street foods, including a piece in the Ottawa Citizen last year, but city leaders have remained conservative on the matter to the disappointment of local residents and tourists alike.

From chais, curries, and dosas to kulfis, papayas and pans, India has it all. Here is a splendid collection of food photos from Muslim’s trip, as we embark on a remarkable journey to learn more about India, its people and places.


India’s Street Foods: A Photo Essay by Muslim Harji

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A loving portrait of Muslim Harji and his wife Nevin outside the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar. Photo: Muslim Harji Collection. Copyright.

After travelling extensively across India for two months in February and March of this year, the first thing that I terribly missed after coming back home to Montreal was the omnipresent “chai wallah” on every corner. Yes, we have Tim’s and Starbucks, but nothing comes close to your corner “chai wallah”. Chai making is different in north India compared to the south, but all chai and street food in India was simply great.

We all have enjoyed street food at some point of our lives. Nothing compares to the sheer taste of the simple and variety of food that is made by the street vendors. In many cases I was concerned about the unhygienic conditions and took a chance – and the taste definitely blew me away. So in a sense one can’t help but dig in, but for a stranger and first-time visitor caution is to be exercised to some degree. Cleanliness can be determined by watching over the surrounding areas, how the dishes and utensils are cleaned  as well as by watching the profile of the customers – – you might be safer with a vendor where there is a presence of adults with their children! From Maharajas to the common man, we found people from all classes and creeds coming together to enjoy these humble, lip smacking creations.


“Bhel Pur Wallah”

Note: A trader or merchant in India is commonly referred to as a “wallah” which may be roughly translated as one who belongs to, trades or deals in.  Thus poonawallah (from Poonah, Puneh), chamdawallah (for a leather merchant) , topiwallah (hat), lokhandwallah (metal) and so on, as well as chaiwallah and bhel puri wallah etc. as in this piece.

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Bhel puri is one of the most common all-day snacks: a crunchy, cold, sweet-and-sour mix of puffed rice, sev, chopped onion and potato, and tamarind chutney. It has to be mixed and eaten on the spot, and most vendors will concoct their own variations.


“Chai Wallah”

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Chai wallah is everywhere in India, Everywhere. From busy urban street corners to hidden alleyways, at bus depots and railway platforms and walking through the train car, along riversides and on footpaths that lead to pilgrimage sites in the middle of nowhere ­ when you need a fresh cup of tea, the chai wallah is always near.


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The best Chai in Baneras.


“Matka Kheer”

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Kheer (rice pudding) served in  earthenware pot called ‘Matka’. The matkas are very eco-friendly as they are totally bio-degradable.


“Pani Puri Wallah”

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Pani puris are a great snack, served as chat and found on roadside food carts all over India. They are served filled with spicy water, chickpeas and potatoes.


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All visitors to India are greeted by an astonishing display of roadside snacks throughout the country: from the teeming lanes of Old Delhi to the hot, dusty streets in the remote countryside.  It is painfully hard to resist the smells and sights and tastes of this roadside food, prepared in front of customers’ eyes with the freshest ingredients and a good helping of panache and showmanship


“Aloo Tiki Wallah”

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Aloo tikki is a North Indian Snack made of boiled potatoes and various spices. “Aloo” means potato, and the word “tikki” means a small cutlet or croquettes. It is found in almost every chaat shop or stall in Delhi as well as in other parts of India. It is served hot along with  tamarind and coriander-mint (sauce), known as Hari chutney, and sometimes yogurt or chick peas. You know the rule about following a crowd –- if the locals are avoiding a particular vendor, you should too. Also, take notice of the profile of the customers – – any place popular with families will probably be your safest bet.


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Aloo Tiki Wallah


“Samosa Wallah”

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 “Jalabi Wallah”

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Jalebis taste best when served hot. Nevin (left), Maherun, and Abdullah cannot wait to sink their teeth into the yummy jalabis,



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Like the Punjab, many South Indian dishes are available in other areas of the country and the world. South Indian cuisine includes many vegetarian dishes, liberally seasoned with spices such as cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, and coconut, mustard seed, curry leaves and dried red chilis. Fish and steamed rice are staples, as are spicy kabab, idlis (steamed rice cakes) and dosas (crispy savory pancakes). Poppadoms or papads are crispy wafers served on the side or as a snack. Other snacks are banana chips and jackfruit chips.


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The same Idlis smothered with sambhar and chutney.


“Bhatura Wallah”

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Bhaturas are a perfect companion for Chole (chickpea curry), a popular  Indian dish, Bhaturas are best eaten as they are made and piping hot. They look a lot like Pooris except those are unleavened and smaller.


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“Bhatura Wallah” – Talk of Street Food


“Papaya  Wallah”

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Don’t be tempted by glistening pre-sliced Papaya, melon and other fruit, which may keep its luscious veneer with the regular dousing of (often dubious) water.


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…and more “Papaya Wallah”


Punjab Classics – Tandoor, Seekh Kabab and Haleem

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Mughlai style tandoori in Delhi

Punjabi cooking favors milk in various forms, including dahi (yogurt), makhan (white butter) and ghee (Indian clarified butter). Other basic ingredients are onions, tomatoes, cumin, turmeric, mustard, garlic and ginger. Famous Punjabi dishes are tandoori chicken, makki ki roti (Punjabi corn bread) and kheer (Indian rice pudding). Tandoori chicken is made with spicy yogurt and curry sauce in a traditional tandoor earthen oven heated with coal.


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The Yummiest Seekh Kababs in Delhi at the Jummah Masjid  Basti


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This haleem wallah is in New Delhi’s Jummah Masjid Basti and there is always  a line up to buy his haleem. He prepares haleem once a day and is usually sold out with in half an hour.


Benarasi “Pan Wallah”

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The betel-nut loaded Banarasi Paan is not for first timers, who opt instead for the Meetha Paan (Sweet Paan). Also called the ‘Ladies Special’ for its lack of tobacco, the Meetha Paan is supposed to be a mouth-freshener but tastes more like dessert! An Indian dinner is incomplete without a Paan.



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Muslim Harji (left):  “Getting my caffeine fix at  Babu Chai Wallah who was just across my camp site at Khumb Mela in Allahbad.

Photos and text by: Muslim Harji. Copyright 2013.

Date posted: Tuesday, April 23, 2013.


Please also click on the following for more photo essays by Muslim Harji:

Iran and Alamut Like You Have Not Seen Before
Jerusalem – A Photo Essay of the Holy City
Peaceful Times and Fond Memories of Salamiyya, Syria….Then Terror Strikes Violating the Qur’anic Injunctions on the Sanctity of Life

Profile of Muslim Harji at Contributors.

For a complete list as well as links to photo essays published on this blog please visit the Home Page.

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