Chaat: Love at first bite

July 28, 2008

Chaat, in various variations, has been an indispensable
part of north Indian street culture. It is believed that
a large variety of these mouth watering temptations
were originally produced in streets from Rajasthan to
UP and Gujarat and spreading to all corners of the

As these snacks spread, the vocabulary of street food
acquired several other influences - Golgappas
(see below) became Panipuri in Mumbai and
Puchkas in Bengal. Bhelpuri was created by a
Gujarati immigrant to Mumbai. Experimentation
with Paranthas (stuffed pancakes) led to a sizeable
 menu list available in shops of Paranthe Wali Gali
(Chandni chowk, New Delhi).

Popular types of chaat usually have several common
elements including dahi, or yogurt; chopped onions
and coriander; sev (small dried yellow noodles);
and chaat masala. This is a masala, or spice mix,
typically consisting of amchoor (dried mango powder),
cumin, black salt, coriander, dried ginger, salt,
black pepper, and red pepper. The ingredients are
combined and served on a small metal plate or a
banyan leaf, dried and formed into a bowl.

This startup rant is however not about the
history of Indian street food, or any such
theoretical studies. It is simply a testament to
the first love of a Punjabi foodie. And what
better way to start about street food, than
to document the several forms of chaat,
specifically their Delhi variety.

If you are a Delhite from birth, you will know
that feeling that chaat inspires in us foodies.
Why, we can simply write sonnets about the
spicy chutney (sauce), the thick glops of
yogurt, the potato crisps, the infinite forms of
chaat - from Bhelpuri to aloo tikki to kebabs....

Back to the task at hand - an establishment
of the more common forms of chaat:

1. Aloo Chaat

A dish of diced potatoes spiced with chili, cumin, chaat
masala, chutney and coriander, it is the simplest
(preparation wise) form of chaat available in Delhi.

2. Golgappe

Golgappe have fried hollow crisp balls made from dough, and
fille as-you-eat with a spicy concoction of water and potatoes,
topped by a choice of sweet or spicy chutney. The spicy water
concoction is usually Tamarind pulp, roasted chilli powder,
roasted cumin powder, black salt and regular salt mixed
thoroughly in water. In some areas instead of tamarind,
lemon or young green mango (which is sour in taste) is made
into paste along with Aam Adrak (ginger with the flavour of
mango), along with mint water and spices like chilli powder,
roasted cumin, black salt, and dry mango powder (amchur).

It is known as Puchka in Eastern Indian states like Bihar,
Jharkhand and West Bengal and in Bangladesh. In
Gujarat it is called Pani Puri and in central parts of India
and Orissa, it is called Gup-Chup.

3. Bhelpuri

Bhelpuri is a type of chaat or small plates of savory snacks.
It is available all across India, and may be known by different
names - Bhelpuri in Mumbai, Jhaal Muri in Kolkata. Jhaal
Muri (literally "hot puffed rice") is different in that it does not
use any tamarind-based chutney in the mix.

Bhelpuri ingredients include diced boiled potatoes, chutney,
dal, coriander powder, grated coconut, and mustard oil. 

Bhelpuri was originally a Gujarati snack. It is best consumed
as soon as it is made. If left for a while, the juices from the
tomatoes, chutneys, etc. combine to render the sev and
murmura soggy. Much of the fun of eating bhel puri is in
the crunchiness.

4. Sev Puri

Sevpuri, as the name indicates is sev topped on puris or
papadis, along with potatoes and chutneys.

5. Papri chat

The most well known street food dish enjoyed all over Delhi.
A tantalizing mix of crispy puris or papris, 'sev, 'boiled
potatoes, chick peas, tangy chutneys, freshly made yoghurt
and blend of pepper, chat masala, ground red chilies etc. 

Served cold.

6. Aloo Tikki and Pakoras

While the former are patties made up of mashed potatoes and
masala, deep fried in oil garnished with onion, chutney,
coriander and hot spices,the latter is varied vegetables, dipped
in corn flour and deep fried.

7. Pav Bhaji

Pav bhaji is another such concoction. It acquired the status of
restaurant food but had humble beginnings as street food. It
has retained its original roadside availability despite this.

8.Poori-Subzie (or Bhaji)

The curry (subzie) consists usually of potatoes in gravy.
Sometimes, especially in the southern part of the country
the potatoes do not have gravy and the poories are
exclusively made up of refined flour (maida).

9. Dahi Bhalla

Similar to Papri chat, Dahi Bhalla is a concoction
of churned yogurt or Dahi with small fried balls
of dal soaked overnight. Chutney, red pepper,
black pepper, chat masala, rock salt are usually
the preferred garnishings for the dish.

10. Kebabs

Cooked in a tandoor, this is one of the most famous tandoori
dishes, besides tandoori chicken, which has made tandoori
cuisine famous worldwide. Made with beef, chicken or lamb
meat, it is mostly prepared with a mix of spices, and cooked
in a tandoor with skewers. The radiant heat from the tandoor
slowly cooks the meat and due to the lack of direct heat from
the fire, the juices remain inside while adding flavour, keeping
the meat's moisture intact. It is usually served with rice, or a
variety of Indian breads, along with onions and mint sauce.

Additionally, hole-in-the-wall kebab shops can be found in
varied places, from Chandni chowk to RK puram.

Street vendors also sell drinks including Lassi (yogurt drink
sold plain/salty/sweet, or fruit flavored), Sherbet and