Indians love of food is almost like a never ending “love affair” that has spread across the whole country and visitors to the country are enveloped into this wonderful “food love affair” called – CHAAT. Chaat is a Hindi word meaning ‘to lick/ to taste and Chaat is the term that refers to the finger licking snacks served in small portions for a perfect ‘pick me up or a light snack’ by Mumbai’s Chaat Wallahs (street vendors). It is claimed that the culture of ‘Chaat Wallahs’ (street food vendors) selling their ‘chaats’ originated in Northern India, but today it has spread all over Asia. The creations of the “Chaat Wallahs” have now found “pride of place” in top notch Indian restaurants, and weddings.
The variety of chaats that are available in Mumbai is the reflection of the various migrants who have ascended upon Mumbai looking for better prospects, and with them come their regional and cultural delicacies. Bhel Puri and Sev Puri were introduced by a migrant from Gujarat to the streets of Mumbai and the list of chaats and its regional and cultural origination goes on.
Traditionally Indians eat chaat in between meals, like – on their way home from work, after school or college or while out shopping-(for me shopping and chaat is synonymous). For the best quality and variety of chaats a visit to Mumbai’s famous “Chowpaty Beach” is a must. Spend about 2 hours or so strolling along the beach so as to enable yourself to taste a variety of the chaats available.
Eating Chaat—is like having a flavour explosion in your mouth-you taste sweet, sour, salty, and spicy and cool all at once. Then there are the crunchy, nutty fried titbits and the cool yogurt with fresh coriander or tangy tamarind and sweet date sauce and the cherry on the top is the sprinkling of the ‘chaat masala’. The contrasting flavours of Chaat are like 100m sprint to your mouth with all the different taste sensations running faster than you can track them.
Chaat was first served in little bowls made of dried banana leaves, nowadays they are served up in little paper plates or sometimes in newspaper that has been folded into a cone or square boat shape—it all depends on what chaat you are buying—samoosas and chilli bites can be served in paper cones or boats but those served with loads of sauce need a plate or bowl. These freshly made lip smacking tasty finger foods need to be eaten ASAP—“no take aways”. Eating chaat is a crunchy and messy experience—but by GOD is it worth it. With the traditional puris, pakoras (chilli bites), lentil dumplings, samoosas, chaats and etc comes a host of amazingly tasty dipping sauces and chutneys—now this is not going to hold if not eaten there and then.
The core ingredient for an authentic chaat is “CHAAT MASALA”, and this is a mixture of a variety of herbs and spices like-amchur (dry mango powder), rock salt, cumin powder, dry ginger powder, coriander powder, black pepper and salt. The masala alone is not enough, you will need some boiled potatoes, cooked chick peas, sprouted mung beans, papadums, rice vermicelli or sev(Indian fried noodles), a variety of sauces and the list goes on-you can use your imagination-creativity and come up with your own choices –as there is no fixed recipe
Popular Varieties of Chaats
The variety of chaats available is endless and usually the ‘Chaat Wallahs’ serve chaats that are that are popular in their towns and cities. Below are just few of the popular chaats that I have tried in Mumbai:-
- Locals of Mumbai (Mumbaikers) and Delhi enjoy Aloo (potatoes) Chaat (mixture of cubed and fried potatoes served with a tamarind sauce
- Bhel Puri (a mixture of boiled potatoes, boiled chick peas, chopped onions, roasted papadums, sprouted mung beans, served with a chilli sauce and a sweet and tangy date and tamarind sauces a firm favourite amongst the people of Gujarat, as it combines the traditional Gujarati flavours of sweet, spicy and tangy all in one dish
- Pakoras is a mixture of a variety of vegetables dipped in a chick pea flour batter and fried and the sprinkled with the ‘chaat masala’
- Chila is a savoury pancake made with chick pea flour and served with a refreshing mint sauce
- These are the savoury forms of cooked ‘Chaat’ and there is the amazing fruit and vegetable ‘Chaat’, which I will cover in a future blog post.
- My next blog post will cover my recipe for ‘BHEL PURI”
All the pictures in this post have been sourced from vatious websites on the internet.