If your palette for Indian cuisine hasn’t branched out from the ever-popular butter chicken and naan, chaat is a great place to start your flavour-filled journey. Chaat is the moniker used to describe a wide range of appetizers or snacks that originated in India and are enjoyed across South Asia street food stalls and restaurants for their unique combinations of flavours and textures.
Each one begins with some kind of fried dough, then savoury ingredients pair with tangy ones to create a medley of flavours that pack a refreshing, satisfying punch. Added texture comes from yogurt sauces (raita), coriander and tamarind chutneys, and crunchy noodles made from fried gram flour (sev).
Although many places get creative with their chaat menus, you’ll almost always find these favourites:
© Sumit Surai
The most popular choice (perhaps India’s take on Tex Mex nachos?), papri chaat starts with the bite-sized, crispy fried dough wafers (papri) adorned with fluffy boiled potatoes, tender chickpeas, cool yogurt, bright mint chutney, sweet-and-sour tamarind chutney, and crunchy sev. A flavour explosion!
As fun to assemble as it is delicious, pani puri invites you to combine savoury potato, chickpea, and vegetable filling inside a hollow bite-sized, unleavened deep-fried bread (puri) with crunchy sev. Then, dunk it into a bowl of coriander and mint water (pani) and eat quickly before it makes a mess!
© Barry Pousman
© Barry Pousman
Light yet filling, bhel puri is perfect on a hot day. A base of crispy puffed rice is mixed with usual chaat ingredients like onions, potatoes, chutney, sev, and crushed papri. Everyone who makes their own bhel puri modifies ingredients to suit their taste, so make it your own with more savoury or sweet ingredients. That’s the beauty of chaat!