From sev puri to momo chaat: The flavourful evolution of the Indian chaat

Our humble street food is being reinvented in many high-end restaurants. However, is fusion chaat the way ahead? Let’s find out 

Suchayan Mandal Updated: Saturday, July 02, 2022, 01:00 PM IST
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Chipotle Palak Chaat

Essentially a North Indian phenomenon, chaat has charmed the foodies in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. However, it failed to take off in the South, where it was interpreted as a north Indian import. Thanks to ever mushrooming street food carts and odd choices of combinations, the chaat scene has evolved. No longer is it limited to aloo tikkis, gol gappa, bhel, sev puri, ginger silvers and bhallas. Today, there is desi Chinese chaat where a dark-coloured sauce is poured over a humble honey chilli potato with a spoonful of curd and sev with a hint of ajino moto. Then there are momo chaats and whatnot! The fusion that was limited to restaurants specialising in molecular gastronomy has walked out into the streets. 

Looking back

The origin of chaat can be traced to the early 10th century, though scholars believe chaat existed even in 500 BC. Manasollasa, a 12th-century Sanskrit encyclopedia compiled by Someshvara III, who ruled present-day Karnataka, had mentioned dahi vada (or kshiravata) back then. However, culinary anthropologist Kurush Dalal believes that the modern-day chaat originated in Northern Uttar Pradesh in the late 17th century during the reign of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. The river Yamuna had suddenly started becoming alkaline. As the civilisation was heavily dependent on the river, the royal doctors of the Mughals were concerned. They advised the civilians to consume spicy and fried snacks as well as dahi or curd as an antidote. On the other hand, the chaats in Mumbai ranging from the bun, bhel puri and sev puri has borrowed influence from the Portuguese population in the southern part of the state. 

Mexican Chaat

The chaat epicentre

Just like gharanas in music, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say even chaats belong to traditions. So, chaats in Lucknow are more on the sweeter side and got national exposure as they moved towards Delhi and occupied most of the northern and central states. On the other hand, the chaats in Benaras moved toward Calcutta and are sour and spicier. The chaats in Mumbai, however, are from the Lucknow region extended up to Allahabad, which is why you would find quite a few shawarmas in the city today.

The future

In the ever-evolving chaat scene, there have been experiments with various kinds of ingredients, from gluten-free chaat to putting in alcohol to creating a surprise factor for the consumers. “Bringing together the flavours from different regions on one plate in a concept of your own is what we ideally call a fusion. Creating a fusion chaat is super easy once you break it down to the elements: it consists of crunch, sweet, salt, sourness and cream. It’s a mix ‘n’ match of flavours that complement each other as well as come together in a way that keeps one wanting more,” said Chef Munshi. 

Baked Chaat Pizza

Sharing his take on the newer version invading the food scene, Chef Sudipto Munshi, sous chef at the Williams Kitchen in Kolkata, said, “With the world evolving, complex ingredients are regularly available at our doorstep. While the original still forms the base of creation, the chaats change to suit the varied taste buds.” 

However, not everyone is open to their fave chaat getting a modern twist. “I don’t like to play around with dishes that would ruin the essence of the original. I am against high-end chaat fusions. You cannot do a Jack Daniel chaat or a dal makhani chaat that ruins the texture of the food. You can definitely do the burrata chaat, where the texture and flavours are identical yet you add burrata to it. I have no problem with fusion chaat. I am concerned about the tendency to go overboard,” said Pawan Bisht, corporate chef and R&D Executive at One8.commune by Virat Kohli.

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