After years of settlement in a new land, our native identity evolves with contemporary virtues and lifestyles. With time, we become a new person entirely. The same is true about food. The slow migration of people led through a violent history and their recipes brought with them have changed Indian street food forever.
The resulting inculturation of flavours has created a host of new varieties, similar to the formation of a pidgin language. Let us discuss a few of the most popular street food items, their origins and Indian interpretations.
Nothing can be more Indian than stir-fried noodles, popularly known as chowmein with cabbage and onion and a judicious amount of soy and tomato sauce. For nearly decades now, Chinese food has reached even the most remote parts of India, with a joint specialising in 'Chinese' food, namely chilli paneer, chilli chicken, chilli potato, and chowmein.
The birthplace of Indian chinese food is Kolkata. It was first made by Hakka Chinese traders who settled in the city in the late 1700s. After selling street food, they opened Indian Chinese restaurants in Tiretta Bazaar and Tangra, the two Chinatowns in Kolkata.
A similar strategy was adopted here by combining fried and spicy food, with Chinese ingredients like vinegar and soy sauce. The popular Schezwan sauce was made using dry red chilies as a substitute for Sichuan peppercorns. According to facts, Indian-Chinese has little to do with the original cuisine. Noodles are originally eaten boiled, with vegetables or meat to add flavour. Manchurian that gets its anime from Manchuria province in China is unknown to them as food.
Momos, the beloved street food in India, is a native of Nepal and Tibet. Their possible origin dates to 1959 with Dalai Lama's arrival, followed by the migration of exiled Tibetans to parts of Dharamshala, Sikkim, Ladakh, Darjeeling, Kolkata, and of course Delhi.
Originally made from yak meat, as vegetables were scarce in the cold and rocky Himalayan regions of Tibet, the use of vegetables was made to adapt to the needs of vegetarian North Indians. Moreover, the chicken was used instead of meat as it was cheap and easy to cook. At present, a lot of varieties are sold in the Indian market with nuances such as mushroom momos, paneer, and tandoori momos.
Pasta has slowly emerged as the new street food with the growing awareness and popularity of international food. The original pasta makes use of olive, tomatoes, garlic herbs with less spice. However, to suit the Indian palate, the originally bland recipe is served with spices, chilli, sauces, and new sauces like butter chicken, makhani, and whatnot.
The understanding of the origins of the evolution of street food in India evokes the idea, “Food can bring people together.”