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Some of Manjit Singh’s fondest memories of India involve street food.
Growing up in the Punjab city of Jalandhar, street food vendors were everywhere as he made his way to school.
"I would see these food stands on every single street offering delicious items for everyone... so I would always grab something on the way to school or going back home," Singh recalls.
His favourite street food is pani puri, which is eaten as one mouthful. Also called gol gappa, it is a crispy puri, or puff filled with potatoes, chickpeas, onions and spices, along with spicy mint water and tamarind chutney.
"It’s a quick snack and full of flavour," he says.
"When you walk down the streets, you see a lot of people... You see people standing at different shops and food stands and just eating and talking to others. It is really a part of India that is unique."
Indian street food refers to snack-like, ready-to-eat food and drink available at roadside stalls, open markets and public fairs.
It’s an all-out assault on the senses: the sizzling of meat kebabs and roasted corn, the savoury aroma of various crispy fritters known as pakoras, the sight of colourful Indian sweets, and ultimately a blast of tastes and flavours — salty, spicy, sour and sweet.
Each region of India offers different street food. One popular dish is masala dosa, the South Indian-style crepe filled with spiced potatoes and served with a soup-like dish called sambar and embellished with chutneys. Another popular dish is channa bhatura, a North Indian favourite consisting of chickpea curry and fried bread.
Of course, there are the ubiquitous samosas, which have either a vegetarian or non-vegetarian filling and are stuffed in a deep-fried pastry. And then there are hot beverages such as chai tea and cold beverages such as lassi — a whipped yogurt beverage with either savoury or sweet flavouring.
"Today, I am just trying to bring those flavours as best as possible to the streets of Winnipeg" as a way for the city "to experience the unique dishes from India," Singh says.
Singh’s journey has taken numerous twists and turns, mostly involving food.
In 1987, he ventured to Austria where he worked extensively in the food industry — from cook, to barkeeper to restaurant manager. In 1998, Singh opened his own restaurant named Bombay which served Austrian, Italian and Indian cuisine in a small town called Kufstein. Family connections brought him to Winnipeg in 2014. Singh soon resumed his interest with Indian cuisine. Late last fall, he opened My Indigo located at 55 Waterford Green Commons dedicated to the Indian street food experience.
"I do not believe that (the) mainstream know yet about Indian street food," he says. "It is basically impossible to even offer all kinds of Indian street food because there are just so many different street food items in India. I hope it gets known since there are a lot of very tasty dishes that people must experience."
While many local Indian restaurants offer some street food, My Indigo offers a wide range of the food, making it a one-stop location.
"It is very different… than a typical curry restaurant," Singh says.
For street bites, there are veggie spring rolls, veggie poutine, and tandoori wings. Under curry world, there is channa masala, chicken tikka masala and goat curry for some familiar entrées. For Indo-Chinese, they offer fried rice, veggie noodles and chilli chicken for a fusion appeal.
For street burgers, diners can try the paneer (Indian-styled cheese) veggie burger or the butter chicken burger. For roadside dosa, there are unique flavours including cheese masala dosa, onion dosa and noodle dosa. Among other menu items are: breads such as naan and roti, desserts such as gulab jamun and ras malai as well as beverages that include milkshakes, fresh masala soda and a few choices of chai.
To quench your thirst on a warm summer day, be sure to try the iced masala chai. Then there is ram laddu, a deep-fried fritter made out of a lentil batter and topped with grated radish and chutneys, which Singh sums up as a definite Delhi delight.
Since Indian street food is described as snacks, the food is light. Diners will be able to try a few items on My Indigo’s menu in just one visit. New menu items are announced regularly on the restaurant’s social media platforms.
Indian street food is not just about the food. It is an experience. It is about enjoying food in an informal, yet sociable setting. During the evening, in the streets of India, it is common to see people indulging in street food among friends and family.
If you are trying Indian street food for the first time, one may ask, is the food best suited for breakfast, lunch or dinner? The answer is all of the above — it can be enjoyed all day.
Romona Goomansingh, PhD is an educator and freelance writer in Winnipeg.
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