Asian snack food is incredibly varied, the continent offering diners a wide range of different savoury options for those looking for a quick bite to eat. Each country and region has its own specialities, with some having become more popular and well-known in the UK than others.
Focusing on Indian snacks and starters, here’s a quick guide to exactly what you’re eating, seeing on restaurant menus or noticing in your local supermarket. If you’ve ever wondered, “What is a bhaji?”, “How do you make dosa?” or “What’s in a pakora?”, you’ll find all the answers below…
A guide to Indian snack foods…
Bhaji: A bhaji is essentially the same thing as a pakora, but uses onions as its base. Chopped onions are combined with a thick batter made from rice and gram flour and spices that may include ginger, turmeric, before being fried until golden brown. Bhajis are normally eaten with various sauces and chutneys.
Bombay Mix: While the name is most definitely British, this popular snack food originated in India and is known as chevdo, chiwda, chevda, chivdo, bhuso, chanachur, Chanāchura and chuda in different parts of India. Often eaten with morning or afternoon Chai (Indian tea) or as part of a meal, it consists of a mixture of well-spiced dried ingredients, which can include peanuts, noodles made from chickpea flour, fried lentils, dried fruit and vegetables and more.
Bonda: To create the most common form of bonda, eaten throughout India, a potato filling is coated in a gram flour batter and deep fried until golden. In Kerala, however, different fillings are more popular: some use tapioca, others prefer sweet potatoes, hard boiled eggs, minced meat or other fillings.
Dosa: This native southern Indian dish is commonly eaten as street food, or as a breakfast or dinner dish. Having originated at least in the 6th century, the soft-yet-crispy pancake is made from black lentils and rice batter, stuffed with vegetables and sauces and served with a selection of chutneys.
(Image credit: By Mike Linksvayer (Flickr: dsc01078.jpg) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons)
Idli: Another southern Indian favourite, idlis were mentioned as far back as the year 960 in a work by Shivakotiacharya. This savoury cake is eaten as a snack or at breakfast, and consists of a batter of rice and fermented black lentils that are steamed in special idli trays (which give them their shape) over boiling water. They are normally eaten with chutneys made from coconut, onion or other ingredients.
Kachori: This vegetarian Indian street food is popular is both central and northern India, where you’ll find them in most cafes and sold by street food vendors. A pastry-like dough encases a filling that is most likely to include green peas, but could feature lentils, onions or other ingredients depending on the region.
Kofte Balls: Kofte (or koftas, or keftes…) are eaten as part of many different cuisines, from Indian to Persian, Eastern European, African and more. Each regional cuisine has its own way of preparing and cooking kofte balls, with the Indian versions featuring either meat such as chicken or lamb, or vegetarian ingredients such as paneer. The crust is formed from a dough of potato and corn flour, with the fillings rolled up inside before being deep fried.
Pakora: Also known as a pakodi in southern India, the pakora originated in India but is now commonly found all over south Asia. A combination of one or more vegetables – or a meat such as chicken – is dipped in a gram flour batter and fried in ghee to create a fritter-like snack, which is commonly found on supermarket shelves and in Indian restaurants in the UK.
Pani Puri: This is an incredibly popular street food choice in India. The puri is a crisp, hollow fried sphere of semolina dough: when served, a hole is tapped into one end which is subsequently stuffed with a range of fillings: chickpeas, potato, tamarind chutney and more. Street food vendors normally serve these one at a time, filling each one and keeping count of how many each customer has scoffed.
Samosa: Despite the fact that it’s commonly associated with Indian cuisine, the samosa actually originated in the Middle East before the 10th century: it wasn’t until the 13th or 14th century that the snack made its way to India via traders. The fried, triangular pastry contains a savoury filling, with both vegetarian (potatoes, peas, onions) and non-vegetarian (lamb, chicken or beef) options available.
Sheekh Kebab: The sheekh or seekh kebab is probably the most popular type of kebab found in India today. Ground meat (generally lamb or chicken) is seasoned with a variety of herbs and spices, before being pressed onto a skewer and being cooked in a tandoor oven – but other types of oven and grill can also be used. They are usually served with mint sauce or some type of chutney, and are a popular Indian street food dish.
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