21 Nov 2017
8 min read
The answer is street food. There are a few joints that sell burgers, bakery items, traditional desserts, packaged dry foods, sweets and fermented edibles too. But if you want a more authentic experience, head straight over to the street stalls and food carts that dot every lane, corner and alleyway of New Road. Among them, you’ll find one that offers varieties of chaats, the ubiquitous Indian street food. For this issue of VMAG Hunger Hunt, we went to taste some chaat at Om Pani Puri Centre, one of the most famous food stalls in Khichapokhari, New Road.
If you're struggling to pinpoint just which one of the stalls Om Pani Puri Centre is, among the many others that have been there for ages, just do this: head for the one in front of People’s Plaza. It is ideally located for serving chaats and pani puris, and is almost always open. On one side of the stall, you’ll see potatoes, onions and chickpea gravy alongside potato tikkis getting warmed on gas. Next to that are towering steel plates and freshly rinsed and dried spoons. On the other side of the stall is an elaborate, but cosy-looking arrangement of condiments—spiced-up water, mashed potato mix, bhujiya and mini-puris, seasonings and dips.
Things might appear chaotic in front of the stall, as there is no space to sit down and eat, so customers just tend to approach the stall vendors from all sides, pick out their orders, pay, then step back and wait to be served. Usually, it takes a few minutes before they receive their orders, and people finish their food standing up. The menu here lists no more than half a dozen variety of chaats, but the most trending ones happen to be the dahi puri chaat and the alu tikki chaat.
Dahi puri chaat
The base for this chaat is simply half a dozen crispy, puffed mini-puris made of deep fried patties of chickpea flour. The body is made of boiled, mashed potatoes mixed with diced raw onions and boiled chickpeas, which are then stuffed inside the puffed puris. The dressing part gets a bit complicated because a chaat uses chutneys for dressing and almost always requires three different types of it—a fruity and sweet tamarind dip; a thinner green watery dip with strong accents of mint, chilli and lemon; and tangy-sweet yogurt. Dahi puri even includes a few teaspoons of only potato gravy. For the garnish, at the end, a few pinches of chaat masala—a powdered mix of tamarind, green mangoes, cumin, black pepper, black salt and sev, noodle-like tiny threads of fried chickpea flour—is added. All the condiments are packed inside the puris, and only the yogurt is left to overflow on the plate. Each puri bursts with flavours, all different, but which come together with every bite.
Alu tikki chaat
Aalu tikkis are deep-fried patties of diced or mashed potatoes covered in thick chickpea batter. The base is a thick, warm potato gravy with whole chickpeas and onions that drenches the body of the chaat. The dressing combination is the same as the one for the dahi puri chaat, except that this one has only a few drops of tamarind dip. The garnish also remains the same as the dahi puri chaat but has an extra dash of chaat masala, which gives it a more spicy-savoury taste. And while the dahi puri chaat is served cool, the alu tikki chaat is served warm. Despite these differences, both make for an appetising daytime snack.
Why so much chickpeas in chaats?
Chickpeas and chickpea flour are ubiquitous when it comes to chaats. The reason, besides the fact that chickpeas have always been readily available in India and Nepal, is that they are inexpensive and mix well with water when ground finely. This batter, made of chickpea flour and water, can also be thinned or thickened as per requirement. And here’s the kicker: chickpeas are rich in protein and fry perfectly.