Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Eating Chaat in Delhi

Snacking in Delhi is synonymous with eating Chaat. It is almost never made at home and popularly eaten off the streets! In Delhi almost every market small or big has its share of chaat vendors or wallahs. Roughly chaat can be described as vegetarian snack food from the streets. The delicious range includes a host of food snack items, but to the North Indian majority in the Delhi area, it is the, aloo tikki, aloo chaat, papri chaat, gol guppa, dahi bhallas, dahi pakoris, dahi gujiyas, bhalla papri, raj kachori, luchha tokri which comes under the chaat nomenclature.

Chaat literally means to lick yes and the fare is lipsmacking. It is crisp, tangy and brings out a variety of sensation, literally putting the tongue on fire. The chaat combines all the flavours – salt, sweet, hot, sour and cool into a homogenous blend. Such that each flavour flows distinct yet it blends as one. Giving it a unique taste which is best eaten and not described. The commonality of all chaat is the seasoning used – the khatti meethi (sweet sour) chutney (sauce) called saunt, mint green chilly chutney, green chilly chutney, green chillies, coriander leaves, rock salt, boiled potatoes, chick peas boiled and the chaat masala (spices). The range of seasoning varies from shop to shop which gives each its unique taste.

For the uninitiated -
Gol guppas or pani puris are small round crisp fritter like puris filled with a mouthwatering combination of tamarind water and more.
Papri chaat – Crisp fried papri topped with cold curd and seasoning
Ballah papri - The papri includes fried dumplings made of urad dal (split washed black lentils) called ballahs with the same seasonings,
Dahi ballahs (well, the ballahs, in sweet curd)
Aloo tikkis - Potato cutlets filled with chana dal (lentils) or green peas and spiced up. It is shallow fried on the girdle.
Aloo Chaat – Cubes of potatoes deep fried in oil on the girdle. It is served liberally sprinkled with rock salt, lemon juice, chilly powder…..
Fruit Chaat – A spiced up mixture of freshly cut fruit.

Highlight - Chandni Chowk almost all shops are good for chaat. Chaat served at each corner is different. So popular is Aloo Tikkis that McDonald launched aloo tikka burgers!
The aloo chaat in its pristine form can give French fries a run for its money.

Location - Where to Eat – Bengali Market near Connaught Place houses – Bengali Sweet Corner, Nathu. Most shops there serve chaat worth their name.
Eatopia at India Habitat Centre is a modern restaurant serving street food.
Prabhu’s Chaat, Shahjahan Road, outside UPSC building . His chaat is legendary
Natraj – 1396, Chandni Chowk is well known for its dahi ballahs
Gole Market, near Connaught Place also has some fine chaat outlets. Then the numerous Haldiram / Bikanerwala / Agarwal Sweets outlets

Timing – Most shops open at 10 in the morning and serve it late into the night till stocks last! Being street food it is a steal - priced from Rs. 10 per plate to about Rs. 30/- depending on what is ordered.

Insider Tip – There are no bad outlets selling Chaat. One cannot go wrong with a random pick. The origin of chaat is traced to finding a cure for stomach ailments, however an overindulgence of chaat can result in upset stomachs. A sore throat is also not unusual after a binge. Golguppas made from semolina are better than the ones from wheat flour. When eating gol guppas, check if the water is Bisleri, or water is of assured quality and ice used is clean and it is served untouched by hands.

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