As anyone who is a fan of Indian food will know, snack culture is an integral part of the country’s culinary tradition. A visit to one of the big cities will reveal streets lined with steaming pots and pans, roadside vendors that specialise in a specific type of food or drink calling their wares as crowds mill around, looking for the perfect treat to munch on the move.
There is a strong distinction in Indian culture between a snack and a meal. A proper meal is only regarded as such if it incorporates rice or bread as its main bulk and if the dishes are prepared and served in a traditional manner. All smaller bites are simply snack foods.
The range of delectable snacks available on the Indian streets is seemingly endless. From the list of savoury chaat there are many that are fried in a spiced batter or made out of deep-fried dough – these are delicious served warm with light salads of diced cucumber and tomato, or mouth-watering chutneys.
These fried snacks are very popular not only in your local Indian takeaway here in the UK, but also in some of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants where they feature as starters. And of these snacks, one of the most popular are the fritters known as pakoras.
In India, pakoras are also called pakodis. The southern states also refer to them as bhajjis. You might be familiar with onion bhajjis, but these crispy fritters can actually be made out of any ingredient. As many top choices are vegetables, we can pretend that we are actually being healthy – surely this balances out the deep-fried side of the snack?
Popular Pakora Options
The classic option here in the west is an onion bhajji but many vegetables make excellent substitutes. Aubergine is greatly favoured in India, as well as cauliflower and potato – these vegetables provide more texture and substance to the snack. However, spinach can also make a tasty pakora too and if you decide to throw health considerations to the wind and really allow yourself a night of indulgence, paneer pakora is a creamy, cheese delicacy, filled with flavour.
Those with a sweet tooth would do well to try plantain pakora – the crisp outer shell and soft plantain within is a tempting treat that’s hard to beat.
In some regions of India, pakoras are deep-fried balls of batter, mixed with chopped green chillies and onions as well as plenty of distinct Indian spices.
Accompaniments Fit for a Pakora
There is no better snack than a pakora for an instant hit of comfort. They are particularly popular in India during monsoon season when people need their spirits lifted with some delectable dishes. Here in the UK, a pakora makes an excellent fast food snack too – particularly late at night when only something crisp, salty and full of strong flavour will suffice.
But what do you consume your pakora with? In India they are often served with a steaming cup of chai tea. However, we think a selection of lip-smacking chutneys make one of the best accompaniments to a crunchy pakora basket. Whether your tastes lean more towards a spicy mango chutney a cooling mint dip; a tangy tamarind; or a red hot chilli sauce, the humble pakora makes an excellent vehicle for these condiments that burst with Indian flavour.