Padmaja Iyengar-Paddy

India is a country of diverse cultures and therefore, multiple cuisines. Each Indian State has its own distinct foods, flavours and aroma. Needless to add that we Indians are big time foodies, ready to taste a variety of foods. The Parantha, Phoolka, Bhatura, Daal and the Chhole varieties of the North or the varieties of Mishiti Doi (sweet yoghurt) and the fish delicacies of the East or the rice varieties of the South like Idli, Dosa, Puttu, Puliyodarai, Pesarttu, Bisibelebhaat, Sambar, Rasam, etc., or the non-spicy yet very tasty food varieties of the West like Puran Poli, Bhaakri, Thali Peeth, Sabudanyachi Khichdi, Pitla, Chiwda, Bhaakar Vadi, Dhokla etc. – India truly defines the word multi-cuisine!

A traveller moving across India, willing to experiment with food, will never go hungry, nor be denied the opportunity of tasting different kinds of local food. Sit in a train from Chennai to New Delhi or vice versa. As the train traverses through the different States of India, vendors at different railway station where the train halts, offer a vast variety of local food and snacks. It’s often difficult to resist the hot Vadas, the steaming Idlis or the sizzling Dosas served with spicy Sambar and Chutney by the vendors at the Vijayawada station, or the Masala Chai and the Poori-Bhaaji at the Nagpur station or the man who gets into the moving train at Nagpur to sell Chana Jor Garam in paper pouches and gets off at the next station! At the intermittent stations through which the train traverses, passengers balancing a cup of tea or coffee and some local snacks in their hands and getting into the moving train are a common sight!

During road trips through the hinterland of India, one often sees both sides of the road lined with sundry shops selling tea, coffee, and different varieties of snacks and foods. Boards mentioning “Kumbakonam Degree Coffee” all across Tamilnadu during road trips, or the Dhabas and foods stalls that are both tempting and riveting because of the aroma that emanates from them, are unmissable! Bus drivers and conductors often halt their bus during the journey to have tea, lunch or dinner on the roadside or simply for a loo break – a win-win for the passengers too who get down to stretch their legs, visit loo or enjoy some tea, coffee, cold drinks, snacks or local food.

Atithi Devo Bhava (Guest is God) is a theme that plays out throughout a road trip as local vendors welcome and attempt to entice the passengers to try their beverages and food stuffs. At many of these stalls, one will find a TV on and newspapers strategically placed. A cricket crazy nation that India is, one can see passengers, bus drivers and conductors catching up with a cricket match during a road trip either on the TV set available in the bus or at the Dhabas and hotels during intermittent halts. May be, the effect of being constantly in a moving train, bus or car and also, having nothing much to do, hunger pangs are frequently felt throughout the journey and the thought of food often crosses the mind. And as if they are mind readers, the vendors dotting the railway stations and the roads, never fail in drawing the passengers to their beverages, snacks and food. The concerns of hygiene and stomach infections and currently Covid, may keep a few passengers away from the stalls, but the steaming tea and coffee never fail to tempt even the most careful travellers!

The vast variety of street food available in India, caters to different taste buds and needs, and is often inviting and irresistible! I am sure, most of us have tasted street food and beverages sometime or the other, at least once. Later, some get hooked to them! Seeing the demand and the changing attitudes towards food, the street vendors too have evolved over time and follow hygiene standards, offer mineral water, and use disposable teacups and food plates.

With more support from the government and local bodies, the street food vendors could be trained and sensitised to offer hygienic foods and beverages. Street foods, being in constant demand, offer vast business opportunities for the vendors.  Therefore, concerted efforts are required from the local government agencies to tap the vast tourism potential of street food.

Let me conclude with a short poem “The True Blue Tambrahm” on some South Indian food items, from my poetry collection “P-EN-CHANTS” (2015):


Whether a nerd or a geek,

Or a pahuncha hua academic freak,

Whether at a nadir or at his peak,

These are the things he'd always seek:


Vetthakuzhambu, Sambar and Rasam,

Thair Saadam, Paruppusuli and Appalam,

For these maketh the true blue Tambrahm,

Whether in India, UK, Europe or Uncle Sam!

(The Tamilian Brahmins (Iyers & Iyengars), a sect from South India, are widely referred to as Tambrahms.  pahuncha hua - are satirical Hindi words meaning: the ultimate. The words appearing in italics in the second stanza, are some of the well-known everyday Tambrahm food items)



  1. nice article. suggestions r also practicable & good

  2. Thank you for stopping by respected Mruganka@green!

  3. Nice article. True that if street vendors maintain high standards of cleanliness and hygiene, travel within India will become that much more enjoyable and affordable.


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