The Foopath Gourmet
It's chaat time!
Yes, the Taj Mahal and Khajuraho make us famous. But for the Indian palette its home grown chaats are no less than the seven wonders, reports Kusumlata.
There must be something about chaats or street food of India that multinationals with their strictly “untouched by human hand” variety of chips and burgers have not been able to replace. Bombay is proud of its bhel puri and pao bhaji. Agra has its gol gappas. Ambala offers seven types of tangy water with pani puri and Gujarat has its sweet-salty dabeli. Bengal offers jhaal murhi, rice flakes spiced with raw mustard oil. And then there is the unending variety of south Indian snacks. The lovers of Mysore dosa swear that you don’t get the roadside variety – the kind with Amul butter and beetroot – anywhere except those stalls. Likewise Punjab has its dhai-bhalle and chole bhature to offer. And yes, there is Amitabh Bachchan and the Benarasi chana jor garam that he made famous.
And trulychaat tastes best when had on the roadside, though there are a few grannies in crannies of old lanes of Delhi, Agra and Lucknow who would debate that.
Each region of India has its own chaats to offer and the footpath gourmet loves to have them all under one roof or on one sidewalk. Liberalisation has done this to India, so you can find the Calcutta jhaal murhi tokriwala in Mumbai’s Vile Parle and Delhi’s Defense Colony. Peppered with raw mustard oil, the rice puffs and peanuts acquire a pungent taste that is unparalleled. There are many things that affect the chaats. Seasons being one of them. With its extremes of cold and heat, North India has perfected many spicier varieties of chaats. Summers see bevy of pani-puri walas and winters see roast sweet potato carts liberally crowding the sidewalks. In summers it is dahi (curd), set in a flat earthen vessel that is used in many a chaat. To be readied for a chaat dish it is whipped till creamy and frothy, and seasoned with a dash of sugar and salt.
The connoisseur would have the imli (tamarind) and gur mixed just so right and the chaat would be so hot as to make your eyes water. That is when the kulfi or lassi would taste as they should. For these along with the inevitable chuski are the sweet accompaniments to the spicy chaat. While matka kulfi (ice cream set in a clay pot) is a hrefined accompaniment, the gola, known variously as kulfi, chuski and chinn in different parts of the country promises colourful delights. This desi ice slush in flavors like kala khatta, orange, lime and a few others are an integral part of street food in the summers. You will come across golawallas peddling their wares at beaches, street corners in the heat of Indian summer.
Then there are chatnis, dry and wet without which any chaat is incomplete. Mumbai offers you dry lehsun or garlic chatni. South Indians can’t think of their chaat without coconut chatni. And the queen of them all is the saunth from the Northern part of India. No one state can claim it as its own. Sprinkled with dates, raisins, fresh grapes, or pomegranate seeds the imli chatni can make any chaat worth its salt.
There is chaat that cools and there is chaat that warms. Kala namak (black rock salt),amchur (dried mango powder),kali mirch (black pepper),bhunna zeera (roasted cuminseed), saunth (tamarind chatni), and fresh herbs like pudina (fresh mint) and hara dhania (coriander) are used instead of the more staid variety of spices. The colourful golas are replaced by jalebis – crisp saffron-flavoured ones with milk spiked generously with dry-fruits in the winters.