The Magic Of Manek Chowk in Ahmedabad
Image Credit: Dried mango in stainless bowl with many kind of dried fruits, sweets and spices in stall at Manek Chowk, Ahmedabad

Manek Chowk is Ahmedabad's culinary canvas named after 15th-century Hindu saint Maneknath, who helped Ahmed Shah I build the Bhadra Fort. It’s a perfect example of vibrant Gujarat and its penchant for good food, fun, and frolic.

What starts as a vegetable market in the morning slowly opens up to take the form of a ‘Sarrafa Bazaar’ (A jewellery market), and as the Sun goes down and evening beckons, Manek Chowk transforms into a street food hub; a gastronomical pilgrimage for the foodies.

Ahmedabad’s food is par excellence; numerous food outlets serving the traditional varieties are spread across the city; however, when it comes to innovative street food, Manek Chowk is the first name that comes to mind. As soon as I landed in Ahmedabad, the first evening and many evenings after, I explored the legendary street food options Manek Chowk offers, especially absorbing the vibe of this happening city square. It was almost magical, a vibe that very few places in India possess, which makes Manek Chowk so unique, and how? Let’s find out.

As soon as you enter Manek Chowk, you cannot miss the crescendo, “Jamun Shot, Jamun Shot, Jamun Shot,” coming from ‘9898’, a well-lit fruit shot cart, the first stop for every foodie to kickstart the flavour riot on their palate. Fresh jamuns blended with ice and served in shot glasses have all the natural goodness and taste divine. I took two shots and walked ahead to my next stop, ‘Bombay Gulalwadi’ to try their delicious ‘Bhaji Pav’, freshly prepared over a ‘Tawa’. This fantastic combination of butter-doused Pav with flavourful bhaji is worth the wait this busy street food joint puts you through. Bhaji Pao is one of the most selling dishes of Manek Chowk, and it must be tried for the superior quality of fresh pao and well-balanced flavour of the Bhaji. 

All ‘Bhaji Pav’ outlets also serve sumptuous ‘Tawa Pulav’. To try this delicacy, I headed to ‘Parking Bhaji Pav’, run by Mr. Vikram Modi. ‘Tawa Pulav’ at ‘Parking Bhaji Pav’ was one of the finest pulavs I have ever had, and I promised to re-visit, which I duly did after a couple of crave-filled days. Mr. Modi was very kind to interact with me, and being an ardent foodie, he didn’t shy away from giving me a semi-long list of places to try in Manek Chowk.

As per his recommendation, I headed straight to ‘Manek Sandwich and Pizza corner’ and was blown away by the sight of sandwiches laden with a mountain of grated cheese or sandwiches laced with chocolate and sprinkled with chocolate chips.

I mustered the courage to ask, “What’s your specialty”? “ghooghra sandwich” came the prompt reply from the chief sandwich maker. Someone in the background agreed in unison, “Yes, try it” Parth, a local Amdavadi foodie, offered me a piece from his plate. “This is nice, full of veggies and melted cheese; you will like it”. I gladly accepted the dual offer of a piece of sandwich and a foodie’s friendship ‘Woahh”, I could not hold my excitement as the bite of the ghooghra sandwich left its delicious impression on my palate. 

Parth’s sister Deeksha suggested, “You got to try their pineapple sandwich”! Being a big fan of the royal fruit, I ordered one for us to share. A generous spread of pineapple jam, a big roundel of juicy pineapple, and a scoop of pineapple ice cream between two slices of sandwich bread were all but a dream for a pineapple lover in me. Interestingly, the sandwich was garnished with the signature mountain of cheese, the combination was offbeat, but we signed up for it. I had to place the sandwich on the table and absorb the visuals for a moment before picking up the piece and swallowing a big chunk. It was juicy and had all the juiciness of pineapple with ice cream slowly melting and creating a resultant sauce to dip the sweet sandwich. What an experience it was; the cheese somehow got overpowered by the sweetness of fruits. Although the combination felt wacky, it was just borderline, considering the more innovative options at Manek sandwiches, which could leave you bonkers. My taste buds happily accepted the pineapple sandwich; however, it ignited the cravings for some authentic desserts to try at Manek Chowk.

‘Basti Ram’ and ‘Asharfi Lal’ are two Kulfi shops next to each other, and both serve amazing Kulfis. After a fair dose of experimentation at the sandwich shop, I was keen to try the simple Kulfi flavour of Kesar Pista at ‘Basti Ram Kulfi’. Kulfi was terrific and had all the milky goodness with just the perfect sweetness and flavours from the dry fruits.

I had an exciting conversation with street-food vendors and many food lovers who are regular visitors to Manek Chowk. This ‘food mela’ remains open till the wee hours of the morning. I tried many exciting food items, like a nitrogen biscuit which, once bitten into, blows out smoke, and the exciting twisted potatoes, which are a definite must-try for potato lovers, especially if you like them crisp, spicy and twisted.

Not to forget the ‘Gathiyas’ and ‘Faafdas’, ‘Dhokla’ and ‘Khaman’, the authentic Amdavadi Chinese style snacks like veg-Manchurian. Even the smokey tandoori snacks of north India bring up the ‘chatkara factor’ of Manek Chowk. Last, the famous South-Indian dish, Dosa, is a crowd’s favourite. However, any cuisine served at Manek Chowk gets the trademark Ahmedabadi makeover. Thus, I had to visit to try the different varieties of dosas served here. You must try Balan Dosa’s ‘Ghotala Dosa’, which is loaded with cheese and butter (The signature style of Manek Chowk), and interestingly named Gwalior Dosa, which has an addictive buttery taste and a huge fan following with Manek Chowk regulars.

With such wide varieties of food available at this iconic food bazaar and new ones trying out their hand every week with new innovative items, the season's flavour always gets its first look at Manek Chowk. And thus, every visit to Manek Chowk will bring out a unique experience for you to savour, and just how good magic does, it leaves you spellbound every time.

So don’t wait, and visit Ahmedabad’s Street food hub at the earliest because of Manek Chowk ‘Saras Che’ (It’s really good).

Sidharth Bhan Gupta is a Hospitality/F&B Consultant travelling across India exploring regional cuisines.