Street food is a very divisive culinary experience. Some people are all for it, after all, it’s cheap, authentic and easily accessible. On the flip side, some travellers wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole for fear of getting sick, or not knowing what’s in it. Contiki Trip Manager Tom Morris is here to share his love of street food against the backdrop of India, and if you’re in the street food haters group, he may just change your mind…
As soon as you speak to Tom you’ll quickly notice he has a big passion for travel, especially India (where he runs a lot of Contiki trips). He also adores street food, so we asked him what exactly he thinks makes it so special. “I love street food because it’s what locals eat. You go there and the people that are cooking it have been cooking it their whole lives and they were cooking it from a young age, their parents were cooking it before them and their parents before them” Tom explains, “It just goes generation to generation, the recipe hasn’t changed, nothing has changed and all the ingredients are the same.”
"It’s like biting a piece of time. It’s history in food and it is some of the best stuff you can ever have anywhere in Asia." - Tom
Tom swears by street food, in fact it’s his first choice everywhere he travels. “I have been to 54 countries and I have eaten street food in 54 countries” Tom told us before speaking about the biggest misconception around street food: that it will make you sick.
“Street food is the safest thing to eat,” Tom says, “The locals have been cooking it for generations, they know exactly what it is and it’s all fresh. They buy the ingredients that day from the markets and when they sell out they pack up and go home. They don’t leave stuff overnight, they don’t hold onto stuff overnight or things like that. It is all 100% fresh and it’s cooked in front of you. It’s the last place in India you’ll get food poisoning.”
Tom also spilled his biggest street food trick… JUST EAT IT! “The trick to overcoming your street food fear is to just eat it! Go for it!” Tom tells us the best way to know you’re getting quality is to go where the people are, “Look for what the locals are going for, if it’s crowded you will not get sick. Watch them cooking it, if they cook it in front of you it’s going to be safe and you know it’s good. Most street food you’ll find throughout India is vegetarian, they can’t really stuff it up.”
“Generally, if it’s not crowded, don’t go there.” - Tom
He also said that food poisoning is actually quite rare and the consequences of serving food that has people hanging over the toilet bowl for three days are big. “Competition is really fierce. The idea of your stomach getting used to food poisoning is a myth. No one gets used to salmonella. That’s a myth and it can’t physically happen. So if a local or a tourist gets sick from street food, that person is shut down for life. The competition is so high people will just go elsewhere.”
Right, we’re starting to get hungry now, but what should we eat?! Tom says his top three Indian street bites are:
It’s a dessert and the best place to get is if you go to Delhi in North India. in Old Delhi you’ll see the Jama mosque, it’s one of the main attractions anywhere in North India, everyone will know where it is. You go down the road from that, on the same street you’ll find a guy called Jalebi Walla. That stall has been there since the 1920s. He knows exactly what he’s doing. Jalebi is wheat flour made into a pretzel like shape and deep fried, them soaked in sugar syrup. For a bag of 200-250 grams will cost you 50 cents.
The tea in India, masala chai, literally translates to spice mix tea and when you get it it’s a cultural immersion. You stand there in the street, it only costs 5 cents a cup, and you drink it watching the world go by. You look to your left, your right, and you’ll see Indians doing the exact same thing. It’s a way of life in India. It’s sweet, it’s hot, it’s cheap and it is safe. You have to boil it so you know it’s safe and you just drink it while people watching. And in India you will see some weird and wonderful thing while drinking chai.
You can get it in restaurants but you shouldn’t, you should always get it on the street. What it is is a mashed potato base lightly fried on the outside with chickpeas and wheat flour, and then they put in different sauces like hot sauce, spicy sauce, things like this, plus some onion, tomato, coriander. Just some things for flavour, and it is the tastiest thing in all of North India. It is absolutely amazing. It costs maybe 20 cents.
Alright, alright, we get it Tom, street food is great! However he did tell us there’s one food stall you won’t catch him at on the streets of India. “One food to look out for is pani puri. It’s available everywhere and you’ll see it anywhere you go in India. They’re these round small balls that have like a little hole in them. The reason these can be dangerous is because they need water to go in them. So unless you see a stand that’s completely crowded and everyone’s going there, don’t eat it because you don’t know if that water is purified or not.”
We don’t know about you but we’re suddenly feeling much more prepared for chowing down on street food now! If you’ve got any questions for street food master Tom, let us know in the comments below!