The Art of Chaat and My Dying Relationship With It.
Let me tell you one thing very very clearly. If you want to buy me, bully me, reason with me, or kill me then please for the love of God do it with good tasty food. Nothing else will matter and I would forgive you. Amen.
Chaat has been a very traditional snack for the North Indians. We north Indians can indulge in aloo tikki or aloo tikiya (sweet and spicy potato patties); pani puri (savory spicy rounds) or pani ke batashe or phulki ; or dahi vada or dahi pakore and what not, our entire life and yet never say that we’ve grown bored of it. In fact, many families of the old cities of Northern India like Banaras, Allahabad, Kanpur, Lucknow et al, still have the tradition of having ‘one plate aloo tikiya and one plate phulki every evening.. As an evening snack. (My family did it with much enthusiasm!)
So what is the magic that these roadside chaat stalls have and what is the tragic reason that now I detest having them. Let me show you one plate at a time!!
The traditional chaat is known for being spicy and tangy. The ultimate mix of spices and spearmint is what makes these delicacies a sin to commit every day. Be it the chutney of the phulki or the chutneys (coriander-mint paste) for the topping of the tikki or dahi vada (yogurt dumplings), they were so created by the shop owner that no matter how strong your will, you would drop down to your knees and ask for another round of them. But that’s not the end. There was always a life saving chutney, the sweet and silky mango chutney. Yes. Mango is considered the king of fruits but here it acted like a beautiful damsel with a golden vase filled with nectar at your service.
But what use are the chutneys if the dish isn’t worth eating??
Never ever underestimate the crispness of the potatoes and other vegetables on a chaat stall.
The chaat shop owner religiously fried the potatoes before smashing them into a disruptive yet gorgeous looking shape, then sinfully consummating it with the myriad of chutneys. The sheer beauty of the dish is so intense that I can imagine it right in front of me.
Then there were other dishes equally sexy and indulging. Why did I use the word sexy? Well one because of their round curvaceous voluptuous shape and other because they always gave you a mouthful. Yes, I’m talking about the all glorious pani ke batashe or phulki. Minimalism started in the 17th century and Google and Apple adopted it in the recent past, but these God sent phulkis showed humanity that beauty lies in the simplest of things. Really.
All you had to do was tell the owner the type of stuffing and chutney you wanted and then voila, one after the other he will shoot you with these phulkis. Before you know it, you have devoured around 10 of them!
So why on earth do I now abhor detest and downright hate chaat? The answer is simple: the divine art of making chaat has vanished. Sadly, but yes it has. Today you won’t find a complete union of all the entities of a perfect chaat at one place. Sure one shop has good chutneys, one can fry the potato well, and one can spice up the phulki but still, where is my temple of chaat.
I’m not a bit sad about what industrialization has done to the cities. What kills me is that it has taken away from me and all those who have been in a serious relationship with chaat, our zest to visit another chaat shop.
Please open National Chaat Institutes and revive this art.
Thank you and dammit I’m hungry.