Desi Chinese, Ice Cream, Dabeli and Other Street Food in India

We were pretty lucky with our experiences eating in India. We didn’t experience any of the chronic bowel problems I’ve heard about, though we invented a new acronym for what we sometimes did experience – SBE – Sudden Bowel Evacuation – which hit every once and a while and afterward we were fine for a day or two. Even writing it I’m a bit superstitious since saying it could sometimes provoke a bout of it.

But we loved experimenting and even SBE didn’t stop me from the next taste, the next new adventure. Luckily we had locals with us to point out their favorite places and dishes.

Ice Cream

I had ice cream a few times while in India, and while it didn’t compare to the gelato here in Italy (check out my Tour del Gelato to see how much I love it), it was a welcome cool break on many days. I thought it was interesting how the ice cream was often presented in pre-cut “loaf slices” or in certain cases in a single tub with other flavors on all sides.

Pre-cut Indian Ice Cream

One flavor I discovered that I really enjoyed was “American Dry (or Dried) Fruits” – and every time I had it, it was something different. Often with a base of chocolate chip, there were nuts and/or gummy “fruit” mixed in. A few times the base was cardamom-tasting and once it was like a creamsicle. It’s definitely worth trying once!

American Dry Fruits Ice Cream in India

Desi Chinese or Indian Chinese Cuisine

According to Asia Times online, Indian Chinese cuisine or “Desi Chinese” is the most popular cuisine after local (Indian) cuisine, and we could tell our friends enjoyed it. Almost every restaurant had a few Indian Chinese dishes on their menus. It definitely beat most of the mediocre Chinese food I’ve eaten in Italy.

Indian "Desi" Chinese food on the streets of Navsari

This following dish was one of the hottest and tastiest of the trip, and even its name is cool: Veg 65. What’s the 65 for in Veg 65 or Chicken 65? It’s still not clear to me. Some claim because it was invented in the 60s, others because there are 65 ingredients in it, and still others that say there are 65 chilies to a kilo of ingredients. The last one makes the most sense to me. It’s hot! I would imagine 65 to be the degrees (in C°) inside your mouth when eating it. When it first appeared, because of the shape we thought they were actual hot peppers fried in more hot pepper! I was determined to try one anyway. Luckily, they were just vegetables in a strikingly similar form to a hot pepper in a spicy spicy sauce. Delicious.

Vegetable 65 - Indian Chinese Cuisine

Of course the Garlic Chili Noodles were also a common favorite and a good fallback option if you needed one of those SBE “downtime moments.”

Garlic Chili Noodles - Indian Chinese Cuisine

One of my favorite dishes (which I didn’t photograph) was Manchurian Vegetables – dark balls of vegetables fried in a wok with “Manchurian sauce.” A great snack. A starter dish I saw frequently on the menu but never tried was the “Chicken Lollipop” which never failed to elicit a chuckle but I was always too hungry to experiment with it. Who’s tried it?

Dabeli Pao

One of our favorite experiments, when our friends in Gujarat asked if we wanted “burgers” we were a bit skeptical since we were really enjoying all the Indian food. When we arrived at the stand, we were surprised to find Dabeli or Dabeli Pao, a little sandwich that looked like a hamburger, mostly because of the butter-toasted bun, but was filled with potatoes, spices, onions, cilantro and then rolled in those crunchy snack sticks you can find everywhere in India and served with cilantro and tamarind chutneys. It was absolutely delicious. We continued to obsess about them for the rest of the trip.

Dabeli being made on the streets of Navsari

There are a ton of recipes online for Dabeli, and even a nice step-by-step video to make it! I have a craving for Dabeli masala powder now, and I am going to scour the stores here for it.

Dabeli on the streets of Gujarat, India

Other Indian Street Foods

I loved the Bataka Vada – these fried balls of potato and spices.

Bataka vada - fried balls of potatoes and spices

I was already a big fan of Samosas, and luckily we have a Pakistani-Indian place here in Italy that makes delicious and cheap samosa! But I was excited to try the Samosa v2.0 – I believe it was a type of Samosa chaat. My friend called it a “ruggerah” but I’m not sure on the spelling on that. Anyone? These were smaller samosas smothered in (curry) gravy, potatoes, onions and cilantro.

Samosa Chaat

This place was really good, and literally a hole in the wall. We had to stop by twice in order to catch any samosas. A father and his two sons were working there, and only two people could be inside the space at one time. The older son “won” this privilege standing behind the food with his little brother at his back, while his father stood partially outside and supervised. I had to duck to get inside and take a picture. The wall is immediately to my left, including the younger brother who scrunched himself to let me in.

Making Samosa chaat

I was fascinated by Pani Puri but it was never the right time to try them or we were concerned about the unfiltered water used that may provoke more SBE. We had some excellent Pav Bhaji that I didn’t photograph because I was so hungry.

Was there any food I didn’t like in India? Maybe. You’ll have to stay tuned.

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  1. says

    Most of these must be Gujarati specialties – I’ve never heard of them!

    We didn’t eat much street food, but my friend Deepu who was hosting us in Mumbai served us lunch after lunch of excellent Gujarati and Maharashtrian veg dishes – most of which you’d never find in a restaurant.

  2. says

    My goodness. It is not even 8:00 a.m. and when I saw these pictures on TasteSpotting, I had to come check them out. I am truly salivating – how I miss Indian street food, absolutely amazing selection and variety. The Desi Chinese looks particularly tempting, and the Veg /Chicken 65 looks very similar to the Chili Chicken from our local place – which I adore. Thank you for the lovely food tour!

  3. says

    Wow! I’m glad you had such a great time in India! I’m really enjoying reading about it (and especially looking at all your photos!) Wonderful.

  4. says

    How delicious and captivating! This pulls me since I’ve been studying Hindi for over a year now and half my music collection is in Hindi to practice!

    Hmm, last year I actually enrolled in a school in Landour (north India, on the Himalayas by Mussoorie) Even had my place reserved, boarding, everything, but canceled to focus on my move to Rome. I really need to settle down…

    Beautiful pictures. With my spicy food cravings that I’ve been having lately, I want to taste a few of those dishes! Yum!

  5. says

    Wow, these two posts from India are just gorgeous. I’m so excited that you got to have this experience, and your photos are beautiful! I don’t know how adventurous I would be eating the food. I love Indian food and it all looks so good, but I would be nervous about the SBE. I guess it’s all a part of the experience and sounds like you got through it relatively unscathed! Can’t wait to see the next posts!! (And thanks for the Ganesha shot ;-))

  6. says

    The SBE thing is cracking me up. I have such a sensitive system that I’ve been known to get SBE in the U.S. and Europe – so naturally the idea of eating anything at all in Asia has me completely freaked out! If only I had one of those people like royalty used to have, taste-testing the food before I did… ;)

  7. says

    Wow! You are adventurous! I love Indian-Chinese and because of that I find Chinese food in the US overly sweet. Neither is true Chinese, of course!

    Sounds like you were in Gujarat or with Gujarati friends. Bataka is the Gujarati word for potato(es). In Bombay, that yummy yellow ball being held up is batata vada and vada pav (batata vada+dry red chutney pressed into a small bun – quite like that in dabeli pav) is one of the most popular street foods.

    What you are calling ruggerah is ragda patties (often spelled as pattice). The potatoes in it are usually aloo tikkis than samosas although it could very well be samosas, too!

    If you are still in India and plan a visit to Bombay, then go to Kailash Parbat in Colaba for pani puri. They use Bisleri or some such filtered water for the pani. My husband who is prone to “SBE” (love that term!) and other complications like amoebiasis and giardiasis always has pani puri there without falling sick.

    Your pictures are making me very home-sick!

  8. says

    I believe the 65 is to indicate how many days the chicken was alive prior to slaughter. For veg 65, I haven’t a clue what the 65 means:)

  9. says

    I really loved this posting. It reminded me of my travels in India a few years ago.

    I wasn’t as lucky with you on the bowels front though – I succumbed to a bout of “para-typhoid” and had to cut my trip short in favour of a long stay in an hospital back home. Not a great end to what was an excellent trip.

    I ate a lot of different foods whilst I was over there, and I wanted to share two of my favourites with you –

    1. Masala Dosa – kind of like a massive crepe, filled with veggie curry and served with a variety of dips. Really great afternoon snack food

    2. Malai Kofte – a tofu/vegetable based dumpling, served in a really tasty hot sauce. Truly delicious, and unbelievably filling

    I wish, reflecting on your post, that I had taken more pictures of what I ate over there…

  10. elarael says

    It sounds it was such an exciting trip and inspires me to pass along a book recommendation you might really enjoy. It’s called ” Shantaram ” and is an amazing true story (and very well-written) by a New Zealander ex-pat who adopted Bombay as his home.

    I’ve read it about 6 times and have since heard that it’s being released as a movie this year starring Johnny Depp!

  11. arun says

    i love indian chinese food. i have it at restaurants once a while but for most part prepare it at home.
    I buy ingredients from Ching’s Secret. they have hakka noodles, soup powder, sauce mixes etc. Am able to get tasty, delicious chinese ready in 5minutes at home itself and i really dont know any cooking but using ching’s am able to churn out some neat stuff

  12. Galactic Chick says

    I love all kinds of street food but you just have to SAY Mexican vacation to me and I get tourista. So I am learning to make chaat at home from my work buddy who comes from the Punjab. I’ve got samosas, naan, pakoras and a great curry down pretty good.

  13. Jas says

    I really enjoyed reading about your food adventures in India. As a North American of Indian origin, it brought back a lot of memories for me. Re: chicken lollipops, we had some in Kolkata a few years back, basically they are spicy deep fried chicken balls formed in the shape of a lollipop. There are some good recipes on-line.

  14. says

    Love your blog and all your travel & food adventures! Looks like you have an awesome life. I am an Indian living Down Under and clarrification for you regarding the Chicken 65. If you noticed on your trip in India the menus are always numbered in street cafes and roadside cafes, with people referring to the ‘item number’ instead of the dish’s name. I think the origination of the dish name came about when the certain ‘item number’ of chicken 65 as it is know today became a popular favourite with locals!

    Do check out my blog if/ when you have some time! Cheers, keep up the AWESOME photogrpahy … its got me hungry!!!

  15. Swati says

    The ice cream that you’ve taken a photo of is actually known as Kulfi here in India and it is made out of condensed milk and then frozen, unlike other ice cream.Just thought I might let you know..

  16. says

    You should come to Calcutta, or Kolkata as it is rightly called nowadays, and taste their Indian Chinese. They were the originals, and truth be told, street food in Kolkata is possibly the best you will ever have… With amazing rolls, phuchka (which is the Bengali version of Pani Puri) and other amazing things like the Biryani, which definitely Kolkata does best. I say that from experience, after tasting it from virtually every metropolitan in India.

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