Manek Chowk Street Food Market in Ahmbedabad, India
Author & Photographer: Wendy Zheng
When I decided that I would be going to Ahmedabad, India for the summer, I spent multiple hours scrolling through various “Must Try Gujarati Food” lists, coming across web page after web page of glowing reviews celebrating the state’s infamously sweet and predominantly vegetarian cuisine. However, despite the popularity of the unlimited Gujarati thali, I was most tempted by the vast variety of street food the city has to offer. The Ahmedabad street food scene dominates the city with seemingly endless options of street stalls and sweet shops serving expertly prepared Gujarati specialties, such as dhokla, khandvi, and khaman for ridiculously affordable prices. However, I was told by my host family and coworkers that if I was looking for a crash course on street food in Ahmedabad, there was only one place to be: Manek Chowk.
Manek Chowk is a square located right in the heart of Old Ahmedabad, which was designated as India’s first World Heritage City by UNESCO for its historic architecture and vibrant community. The square is used for a vegetable market in the morning and precious metal bazaar in the afternoon; however, at around 8 PM, the jewelry stalls rapidly transform into street food stands and the center of the square turns into a large dining room filled to the brim with metal tables and plastic chairs. The other interns and I arrived right in the midst of this exhilarating transition and witnessed coal flames being lit, men on top of vans attaching street lights to wooden poles, and an entire cart of crustless sandwich bread being pushed out of the dark alley two blocks down.
Although my previous research on Manek Chowk claimed that there would be around “150 different types of street food available”, most of the stalls sold essentially similar variations of four things: pav bhaji, pulao, dosa, and sandwiches. We went to the first pav bhaji stall that caught our attention since every menu looked pretty similar and all boasted how they used “ONLY AMUL BUTTER AND CHEESE”. We ordered a single platter of pav bhaji with extra bread-- spicy mashed vegetables served with toasted rolls--to split. Although the bhaji was spectacularly well seasoned and creamy due to the huge dollop of butter floating on top, I thought the pav was a little dense and overly greasy. However, the delectable bhajji accompanied by the crisp onions and tart lemon juice was a great way to kick off the night.
More people started to arrive by the time we finished the pav bhaji, so we decided to go the dosa stall that had the most customers. The dosa--a thin fermented crepe made from rice and lentils-- menu was extensive, ranging from the traditional masala dosa to the unique dry fruit dosa. We decided to go with the special open-face dosa, and it arrived piping hot with side containers of coconut chutney, sambhar, and watered down curd. Although the dosa had tons of flavorful potato and vegetable filling piled on top, the dosa itself retained its crispiness, making it one of the best dosas I’ve ever had.
However, the unexpected star of the night was the pineapple ice cream sandwich. I would never have anticipated that the combination of untoasted crustless white bread, pineapple jam, a single frozen pineapple ring, and vanilla ice cream would be a textural masterpiece; however, the sweetness and luxurious mouthfeel of the ice cream and bread was complemented perfectly by the slight tartness and firm bite of the jam and frozen pineapple. Although this blend of ingredients might sound unusual, our variation was tame compared to their claim-to-fame pineapple ice cream cheese and Cadbury cheese sandwiches that are each topped with an entire pizza’s worth of unmelted, processed Amul cheese. After splitting two sandwiches, one pav bhaji, and one dosa between four, each of us spent less than two dollars for a night’s worth of decadently satisfying street snacks. As a semi-lactose intolerant person, my experience at Manek Chowk was slightly painful yet enjoyable, the lively atmosphere and cheap delicious food making it a go to spot in Ahmedabad for all street food enthusiasts.