Chaat: The Quintessential Indian Street Food Snack

chaat
An introduction to chaat

Irresistibly tangy, slightly spicy with a subtle hint of sweetness… relishing chaat is akin to sampling a medley of flavours.  Derived from the Hindi word Chaatna which translates to lick, chaat is a popular Indian street food which is literally finger licking good.  It is an umbrella term that refers to a series of dishes that are typically prepared in little stalls, roadside eateries and even in homes.  Spices and freshly prepared sauces (chutney) make their way into a variety of fried bread, patties and crunchy vegetables making it highly flavourful treat that is replete with an array of textures.  Bhel puri, sevi puri, pani puri, ragada patties, dahi puri and aloo chaat are just some of the most popular chaat items served across the country.

Wide variety of ingredients

It is a common sight to see chaat sellers assemble their dishes with the help of a plethora of ingredients.  More often than not they are all arranged in containers for easy access and with a sleight of hand that is almost magical vendors methodically assemble the spices, chutneys, vegetables and the toppings over the base at almost lightning speed.  The most common ingredients include chickpeas, potatoes, green peas, tomatoes, yoghurt, tamarind-dates-jaggery as well as mint-cilantro chutney coupled with crunchy sev (extremely thin gram flour noodles). 

The ingredients can be broadly classified into the base which consists of deep-fried flattened bread (papdi) or puffed rice or just plain potato, boiled peas or chickpeas.  The next set of ingredients include sauces or chutneys made from dates, tamarind and jaggery that lend the dish a sweet-tart flavour.  Green chillies, cilantro and mint chutney add a touch of hotness and spice.  Then come the veggies and the ones most commonly used include finely chopped onions, tomatoes, grated carrots and even pomegranate pearls.  The spices are the soul of the chaat and often include specially prepared powders using ingredients like cumin, coriander and chilli powder.  Crunch is added on top in the form of peanuts or sev to form the perfect finish to the dish!

chaat

Although served as an appetizer, chaat is an all-time favourite and can be had at any time of the day.  The snack normally consists of a combination of pre-cooked and raw ingredients that are put together to form a truly delectable concoction. 

Regional nuances

It is key to note that while chaat is extremely popular throughout India, the individual dishes have their own variations according to the region it is prepared in.  Arguably the capital city of Delhi is one of the best places to have chaat with their aloo chaat, aloo tikkis (deep fried potato patties) and dahi Bhalla being very popular.  Thick curds, pomegranate pearls as well as tangy tamarind sauces make the chaat in Delhi super special.  Mumbai, on the other hand, is known for its bhel puri that is intrinsically associated with its beaches as well as mouth-watering pani puri (known as gol gappe in Delhi and UP region).  The eastern city of Kolkata has its own native specialities like Ghugni chaat (made from boiled chick peas seasoned with an array of rustic spices and raw vegetables), Puchkas (pani puri) and Jhalmuri (the Bengali version of Bhel puri which is slightly pungent due to the presence of mustard oil, chillies with a dash of lime). 

Down south Bangalore is known for its unique take on chaat with regional items like nippatu masala (deep fried savoury rice flour crisps are used as a base for the chaat) and Bangarpet chaat.  The latter is a small town about 70 km from Bangalore and is known for its distinctive chaats that are prepared sans potatoes.  Another special feature of this chaat is the fact that the water for their paani puri is extremely flavourful but colourless! The chaats of Sowcarpet in Chennai, Varanasi, Indore, Agra and Kohlapur are famous and special too. 

chaat

Irrespective of the region, chaat remains an integral part of the gastronomic culture in India and even though it is prepared in homes, nothing beats the inimitable flavour created by the road side vendors and humble eateries down the street.  The best part about this versatile food is that you can customize it per your taste i.e, if you have a sweet tooth you can add more of the sweet sauce; if dislike raw onions you can easily skip them or if you have a tolerance towards a higher level of spice, then be generous with your green chilli-mint chutney!

All images courtesy of Rashmi Gopal Rao

Beginning this week, we bring to you a series of articles on this eclectic street food of India. Join us on a delightful journey as we bring to you each week some of the following delectable recipes:

  • Bhel Puri
  • Pani Puri
  • Sev Puri
  • Dahi Puri
  • Ragada Patties
  • Channa Chaat
  • Samosa Chaat

Check back in each week as we update each of these recipes as they go live on SEEMA.com!