Beyond that bland bag of supermarket bhuja, an exciting new snacking world awaits.
In 2002 when we moved to Auckland, my mum’s favourite shop was the lonely old Moshim’s Indian store near Pakuranga Plaza out east. It was the only place that sold the spices and ingredients she needed to recreate home in a faraway land.
We went there every fortnight. While Mum would be busy filling up plastic bags of various spices from the big bulk bins, I would take a stroll in the snack aisle. There was everything from the Parle-G biscuits I grew up dunking in my milk, to bhel puri, to my favourite mini samosas (very different to the large Punjabi samosas), all squeezed in next to one another.
Money was tight so I dared not ask Mum to buy me the $6 Frooti mango drink I coveted. But I knew that if I walked around in the aisle long enough and stared longingly at the packets I could emotionally blackmail her into buying a packet of chakli or suji rusks to have with chai.
Twenty years on, Indian ingredients are easier to find but the snack aisle at my local Indian shop remains my favourite place to go when I have the munchies. If you’re a bit tired of eating salt and vinegar chips, here are seven savoury Indian snacks you must try.
Perfect instead of biscuits
I have a friend who simply must have two chakli every evening. Chakli is a spiral-shaped snack made with rice flour, chickpea flour, cumin and sesame seeds that originates in west India. It enjoys peak popularity during Diwali where it’s often made fresh by grannies and packed as part of the Diwali Faral (snack) gift box that families exchange with one another. You need special equipment and a patient mindset to make chakli at home so I suggest you just buy them instead.
Masala moong dal
Perfect with drinks
You might’ve cooked with yellow mung lentils and know they’re quite delicious. These are their naughty cousin that parties too much. Moong dal namkeen flooded the Indian market in the late 1990s and everyone loved this simple salty snack. It’s a family favourite – kids love it because the tiny dal stick to their fingers and adults I know eat it by the tablespoon as a salty accompaniment to whisky or beers. High-protein snack, anyone?
Perfect with chai
You get banana chips in supermarkets but they taste nothing like their zingy Indian relatives which come seasoned with dried mint, black pepper and salt. A popular snack from south India, banana chips may dubiously be counted toward your 5+ a day if you disregard the oil they’re fried in. Their thin and crunchy texture pairs wonderfully with a hot cup of chai.
Perfect for kids
Made by a popular Indian snack company Parle, Monaco Cheeselings are easily spotted by their signature yellow and red box. Made of flour, butter and cheese, these small, salty, cheesy squares are highly addictive and a hit with my kids who don’t like spice. Their melt-in-your-mouth quality makes them a dangerous yet tasty choice for your next binge-watching session.
Perfect as a crispy topping
The most basic definition of sev is deep-fried savoury strings made of chickpea flour (note that sometimes it also goes by the name bhujia). You’ll find many types of sev ranging in thickness and flavour; I particularly like garlic sev or methi (fenugreek) sev. While you can eat fistfuls directly from the packet, I like to use it as a topping on any boring food – like a curry I need to finish eating or even some leftover stir-fry thing. Street food vendors that sell the famous Mumbai sandwich use sev as a garnish on top and I reckon it would taste awesome on some sort of pork taco thing too.
Perfect as a healthier snack
A running joke in India is that the Gujarati community take their packets of khakra with them everywhere they go. Made from wheat flour, khakra is essentially a roti rolled out very thin and then roasted until it’s crispy. They are one of the few snacks that are not deep fried and therefore a favourite with Indian dietitians who are trying to wean their clients off the 5pm munchies. Your local Indian shop will likely have khakras in all sorts of flavours. Start with the plain ones if you’re averse to spice and level up to the pani puri khakras slowly. I highly recommend the Induben brand.
Murmura (puffed rice) chivda
Perfect for making on a rainy day
There are many different kinds of chivda including the classic poha chivda that includes flattened rice, peanuts and spices, and corn chivda which incorporates corn flakes, nuts and spices. Other types of chivda may feature ingredients like sev, lentils, raisins or other dried fruits, creating a mix that’s sweet, savoury, crunchy and spicy almost all at once.
My favourite type of chivda is the one I make at home. To make it yourself you’ll need plain salted puffed rice which you dry roast in a pan or pop into your air-fryer for a couple minutes. Meanwhile, make a tempering of oil, mustard seeds, curry leaves, peanuts, finely chopped garlic, turmeric and salt. Mix the hot oil onto the puffed rice and you’re done.
There are so many other Indian snacks like gathia, shakarpada, bhakarwadi, dry fruit samosa and kachori that didn’t make the cut here but I suggest you try those too. The easiest way is to promise yourself you’ll never leave an Indian shop again without a pack of Haldiram or Kemcho snacks again!