Take a stroll down the food paths of three of East Asia’s most iconic cities, Mumbai, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, to experience the culinary gems hidden in the nooks and corners of their streets.
Chatpata (hot and tangy)!
That, in a capsule, describes Mumbai’s street food. The city’s crisp tangy-spicy flavors, have, unsurprisingly, made a culinary connection even with non-Mumbaikars (residents of Mumbai are colloquially referred to as Mumbaikars) and travelers/tourists from abroad. Mumbai has the all-encompassing ‘chaat’ factor in its sprawling street food industry, which has ensured that one is never short of snack options, at any time in the day – and even night.
But for a foodie, seeking that much more from a Mumbai experience, street food is not merely a hunger-quelling option. It is a treat for the palate, with tastes that have been crafted over the years by vendors who have studied the food penchants of people and have given ‘chaat’ an elevated status. Although Mumbai’s streets boast foods that range from the quintessential ‘vada paav’ to exotic meat dishes, as well as the regular biryanis and fried fish, it is the variety of quick-fix snacks that have flavored the city, with prices that are, often, set depending on the locality, the size and the look of the stall.
Whether one is a resident or a visitor, no shopping trip in Mumbai could be complete without tucking into some paani puris, or the golgappas, which require one to gobble up the puri, packed with potato filling and topped with tangy and sweet chutney, in high speed. Other must-try street foods of Mumbai – of the ‘chaat’ kind – include bhel-puri, a platter of puffed rice, with onions, chilies, tomatoes and coriander leaves; sev puri, another all-time favorite snack, which is served on a bed of flat puris; and dahi puri, which is packed with curds and tangy chutneys.
There is also the vada pav, the unpretentious version of a regular vegetarian burger, featuring fried dumpling made with mashed potatoes and other spices in a soft bun laced with hot chutney. But for a more wholesome snack, the best option would be pav bhaji, which includes vegetable curry and buttered buns. Mumbai also has its very own version of sandwich, a special sandwich, packed with potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, beetroots, onions, along with mint chutney and a lavish spread of butter.
In the labyrinthine lanes of Bangkok’s busy shopping districts are street food zones that are best described as sanctuaries. They are food havens that are designed to cater to tourists who believe food is at the heart of the country’s culture and tradition. They feature outlets that dish out traditional Thai food, catering to locals who have yet to hone their palates to foreign cuisine and tourists looking for new culinary adventures. But for those tourists who are wary of experimenting with newer cuisines, Bangkok street vendors have an array of global fare to cater to every taste bud.
While Thailand as a whole has retained its tourist-friendly status with economical travel and lodging options, it is the street food that has colored it in warm welcoming hues. In Bangkok, particularly, the focus is on providing appetizing food that is cheap and convenient. Most of the stalls are located around the tourist areas, making it an easy option for budget travelers and also those seeking to experience Bangkok on a food platter.
However, earlier this year, Thai authorities announced that they were putting in place measures to regulate the street food in some of the areas, excluding popular Chinatown and Khao San. While this would demarcate the food zones and, perhaps, move the vendors to specially designed areas, it would also mean better facilities for diners.
Regular street food diners suggest trying ‘som tam’, a spicy green papaya salad; ‘muu bing’, grilled pork on sticks, ‘satay’; meat threaded on bamboo stick and grilled over open flame; ‘sukiyaki’, a wok-fried blend of glass noodles, egg and seafood; ‘khao gang’, curry rice with a selection of curries and stir-fries; ‘ob woon sen’, seafood with vermicelli; ‘pad Thai’, fried noodles with eggs and shrimps; and ‘gai yang’, grilled chicken with sticky rice, among others.
What makes street food an attractive option in Bangkok is its availability at any time of the day and until late in the night.
Everything about Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur is colorful and vibrant, including its street food. Visitors to this land of plenty can learn all that is to know about the country by simply frequenting the street food zones of Kuala Lumpur, which have been carefully curated to cater to every kind of tourist and traveler. The local vendors manning the stalls have everything – from local culinary delicacies to international flavors – providing an exciting mix of cuisines for diehard foodies.
A walk through any street market of the capital will prove to be an experience in Malay culture, with its influence of China and India starkly evident in the dishes laid out. There is a surplus of choice, creating options for repeat visits to savor some of its must-try delicacies. Regular tourists could even consider a culinary trip of the country instead of frequenting the popular tourist spots. And the street food vendors will not disappoint. The endless choice of foods, whether one is opting for the popular noodle dishes or the scrumptious Malaysian Indian food, are bound to make every trip all the more attractive. The distinct combination of tangy, sweet and spicy tastes pack in unique flavors, giving local dishes the must-try tag.
On the list of must-try items are ‘bak kut teh’, meaning ‘meat bone tea’, which is a popular Chinese soup; ‘assam laksa’, a noodle soup dish featuring thick rice noodles, ‘chee cheong fun’, also known as rice noodle roll; ‘Hokkien char mee’ or fried noodles, served with dark soy sauce; ‘nasi kandar’, a dish of rice swamped with curry; ‘yong tau foo’, a street food of wrapped bean curd sheets with meat or fish paste; and ‘nasi lemak’, a popular rice dish, which is also well liked in and outside Asian countries, among a host of unending street food
Fly to Mumbai, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur with Oman Air and savor Mumbai’s ‘chaltha hai’ (it is fine) attitude at any of the street food corners, where food is the only equation for people from all walks of life; get a taste of Bangkok’s culinary fiesta; and enjoy the pleasures of tucking into a variety of foods at Kuala Lumpur.
Oman Air flies daily to Mumbai, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur; for more information visit www.omanair.com.