Chaats, the real Indian street food heroes

  • Food
  • Friday, 27 Oct 2017

Bhel Puri chaat

THERE’S a scene from the Bollywood blockbuster Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi where Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma are licking and gulping down golgappa in an eating competition. It’s an eating orgy really, sweat and sauce mingling in a sensuous fight – which is quite a fitting way to get inducted into the racy nuances of chaats.

Chaat lives on the streets of Mumbai, Kolkata and Delhi as all-day snacks, and are true flavours of India: lively and bursting with colours, flavours and textures.

The magic of chaat lies in its flavour profile known as “chatpata” – a heady combination of salty, sweet, sour, spicy and pungent, with crispy and velvety textures tossed into the mix. One mouthful of chaat tastes different from the next because you will have picked up a slightly different combination of ingredients.

And the best part is what’s left at the end; this is so tasty there’s no shame in licking the plate clean.

And that’s how it got its name. According to The Penguin Food Guide to India, the word chaat comes from the Hindi verb for “to lick”.

wtf owners jigna and priti
Jigna (right) and Priti, business partners and best friends for over 22 years.

“In India you often eat chaat with the fingers, standing around food carts in the middle of the street,” says Jigna Doshi, co-owner of WTF restaurant in Bangsar, one of the few Indian restaurants in the Klang Valley where you can find excellent chaats. “It can get messy but so good.”

How good it is is played up by WTF, which stands for What Tasty Food and has the cute tagline, “we lickle your taste buds”! They are not kidding, chaat is lickety good here.

And presented in a wide variety. A whole section with over 10 chaats are on the menu, from samosa chaat and pani puri to dahi papdi and aloo tikki. You are in chaat paradise this side of Mumbai.

A typical chaat is a layered thing of beauty made of a crisp fried item dressed in sweet and tangy chutneys and flooded with yoghurt. Chopped herbs and vegetables and more crispy bits are piled up before a final sprinkling of its own masala – masala chaat, a pungent spice mix of black salt, pepper, chilli, amchoor, cumin, asafoetida and sugar.

The origin of chaat is lost in time, but points to Uttar Pradesh in the north east. Northern cities like Delhi and Kolkata are renowned but today they are found across India in various regional variations and names.

Pani puri (also golgappa) is a crispy hollow puff the size of a golf ball, made of semolina or wholewheat flour. A hole is punched on top so it can be filled with potato and tamarind chutney. It is then souped up in minty spiced water and the whole orb is quickly popped into the mouth.

Aloo tikkis are patties of spiced potato fried golden and dressed with yoghurt and chutneys, and garnished with crunchy sev (thin noodles of chickpea flour), ruby pomegranate seeds and coriander leaves, and finished off with masala chaat.

Papdi chaat is built from a base of small, flaky biscuits (papdi) layered with boiled potato cubes, chickpeas, curd, chutney and various garnishes. The biscuits are used to scoop up the toppings.

Samosa chaat is smashed samosa dressed with curd and chutneys.

Dahi bhalla is urad dal vadai soaked in water and wrung out to give a spongy texture before being dressed with yoghurt and chutneys, and garnished.

The list goes on but for every chaat, the chatpata is like magic dust on the taste buds, working up an appetite – the more you eat, the more you will want.

Chaat can be a meal on its own, but also makes a good appetiser served in its traditional bite-sized tapas portions.

In a country that prides itself on excellent Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines, why isn’t chaat a part of our street foodscape?

“Many Indians in Malaysia trace their roots back to southern India; chaat is a northern Indian pheno-menon,” explains Jigna, one third of three passionate foodies who set out in 2012 to open the best vegetarian restaurant in town after being constantly frustrated when they ate out. She has made it her mission to prove that “vegetarian food is more than just grass”.

“Our biggest joy is to see meat eaters delight in eating vegetarian food,” confides Jigna’s partner and best friend of 22 years, Priti Gathani.

They pride themselves on a varied and interesting menu – apart from the northern Indian classics, here’s where you can find Indian-style Chinese food from Kolkata, momos, enchiladas, burgers and even pastas.

The simple interior set up at WTF belies the adventurous bent of the menu and fabulous desserts – where else can you find paan, sweets fashioned out of betel leaves?

If you’ve never had chaat, it’s a good idea to head to WTF first before you try your hands at making them with their recipes.

pani puri chaat
Pani puri chaat


Serves 8

Puri (bread puff)

1/2 cup fine semolina (rava/suji)

1/2 tbsp plain flour (maida)

3 tbsp soda (bottled)

salt to taste

Pani (spiced water)

1 1/2 cups chopped mint leaves

1 tbsp chopped coriander

1/3 cup tamarind

2.5cm (1”) ginger

4-5 green chillies

1 tsp cumin, roasted

1 1/2 tsp black salt

salt to taste

Tamarind-date chutney

1 cup seedless dates

2 tbsp seedless tamarind paste

1/2 cup grated jaggery or palm sugar

1/2 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp cumin seeds powder

salt to taste


2 medium potatoes, boiled and peeled

1/2 cup boiled mung beans or small chickpeas

salt to taste

To make puri

Combine the semolina, flour, soda water and salt to make a semi-stiff dough. Knead well and rest dough, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes. Divide the dough into 40 equal portions and roll each thinly into 4cm diameter circles. Line them up in single layer on a tray. Set aside, covered, for 5 minutes. Deep fry, a few at a time, in hot oil on medium heat till they puff up and are golden brown – to make them puff, press each puri lightly with a slotted spatula. Remove the puris, drain on paper towels, and store in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks.

To make pani

Soak the tamarind in 1/2 cup water for about 1 hour. Strain. Combine with the remaining ingredients except the salts in a blender and process to a paste. Tip paste into a large bowl and combine with 1 litre water, the black salt and salt. Stir to mix well. Chill for 2 to 3 hours.

To make tamarind-date chutney

Remove seeds from dates and place in a saucepan with the tamarind and jaggery. Add 1 cup water and cook until dates are soft. Cool slightly and blend to a smooth paste. Strain. Add 1 1/2 cups water, the chilli and cumin powder; stir to mix well. Season to taste with salt. Chill for an hour.

For the stuffing

In a bowl, roughly mash the potatoes. Add salt and yellow peas. Mix well.

To serve

In a bowl, have the pani ready. Lightly tap the top of a puri to make a small hole. Fill puri with a teaspoon of potato and lentil mixture. Top with half a teaspoon of tamarind chutney. Dunk the entire puri into the bowl and allow the pani to fill it up for a couple of seconds. To eat, pop the entire puri into your mouth as quickly as you can and try not to dribble!

bhel puri chaat


Serves 4

4 cups puffed rice (available at Indian grocers)

1/2 cup boiled, peeled and chopped potatoes

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1 1/2 tsp masala chaat (available at Indian grocers)

1/2 tbsp lemon juice

salt to taste


3/4 cup tamarind-date chutney (refer Pani Puri recipe)

1/2 cup green chutney

Green chutney

2 cups chopped mint leaves

1 cup chopped coriander

4-6 green chillies

1 large onion, sliced

1-2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp sugar

salt to taste


1 cup sev (available at Indian grocers)

1/2 cup coarsely crushed papdis (available at Indian grocers)

1/4 cup finely chopped coriander

For the green chutney

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend to a smooth paste using a little water.

To assemble

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently till well mixed. Divide the mixture into 4 portions, drizzle with the dressings and garnish with sev, papdi, and coriander. Serve immediately.

spinach chaat


(Palak chaat)

3-4 servings


1 1/2 cups coarse gram flour

salt to taste

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

1 1/2 tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp carom seeds

oil to deep fry

30 medium spinach leaves

1 cup Greek yoghurt

1 tsp sugar or to taste

1 large potato, boiled, peeled and diced

1 onion, peeled and diced

4 tbsp tamarind-date chutney (refer Pani Puri recipe)

4 tbsp green chutney (refer Bhel Puri recipe)

2 tsp roasted cumin powder

black salt to taste

1/2 cup sev (available at Indian grocers)

For the batter

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients and enough water to make a thin batter. Rest batter for a while.

For the spinach

Heat enough oil for deep frying in a pan. Coat each spinach leaf with batter and deep fry till golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

For the yoghurt

In a bowl, combine yoghurt and sugar. Mix well.

To serve

Place spinach fritters on a serving plate. Place some potatoes and onions over the spinach layer and cover with 2 to 3 tablespoons of yoghurt. Drizzle with tamarind and date chutney and the green chutney. Sprinkle over the chilli powder, cumin powder, black salt and salt. Cover liberally with sev. Serve immediately.

chole tikki chaatCHOLE TIKKI

Serves 2

For the tikki

2 potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed

1 tbsp fresh coriander leaves, finely chopped

2 green chillies, finely chopped

1/2 tsp black pepper powder

1 tbsp lemon juice

salt to taste

oil to shallow fry

rice flour as required to coat tikkis

For the chole

1 cup cooked chickpeas

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

1/2 tsp finely chopped ginger

2 tsp finely chopped garlic

2 tsp chole masala

1 tsp chilli powder

1 tsp dried mango powder (amchoor)

1/4 tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

salt to taste

1 cup  water

To serve

1 recipe green chutney (refer Bhel Puri recipe)

1 recipe tamarind-date chutney (refer Pani Puri recipe)

1 cup fresh yoghurt, whisked until smooth

1/2 onion, diced

1/2 cup sev (available at Indian grocers)

To prepare tikki

Finely chop ginger and put into a bowl. Add mashed potatoes, coriander, chillies, pepper, lemon juice and salt, and mix well. Divide mixture into equal portions and shape into balls. Flatten each slightly to make cutlets/tikkis. Heat enough oil a non-stick grill pan for pan-frying. Roll each tikki in rice flour and pan-fry until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

To prepare chole

Heat the oil in a deep pan and add the cumin seeds. When the seeds crackle, add the onion, ginger and garlic, and sauté on medium heat till onion is soft. Add the chole masala, chilli powder, dried mango powder, turmeric powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, salt and water. Mix well and cook on medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chickpeas, mix well and cook on a medium heat for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Mash the mixture once lightly with the help of a masher. The end result should be rather mashy.

To serve

In a bowl, place two tikkis. Pour a generous amount of the chole mixture over the tikkis. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons each green chutney, tamarind chutney and yoghurt. Top with some onion and sev.

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