You cannot escape its tantalising aroma as you cross the street and the mere mention of some of these preparations is sure to get your mouth watering. Yes! You guessed it right. I am talking about the rich variety of our yummy street food.
Earlier on, no mohalla (neighbourhood), worth its name was complete without these street hawkers who would come to sell their preparation, especially to the women folk during afternoons. Street food today ranges from simple snacks like chaat, paani puri, sev, chuskis, jalebis to full meals like aloo puri, fried rice, chowmein, aloo matar kulcha for the working masses.
Every Indian city has a special trademark ‘street food’ where it is a part of everyday life to take a snack break while catching up with the day’s gossip. Let us dig a bit deeper from one end of the country to the other.
Delhi, the nation’s capital, could well be called the street food capital of the country. Dilliwallas, I think would like to take credit for the one-of-its kind fare called chaat, but history points slightly in the direction of Uttar Pradesh. Then again one is reminded of the fact that both Delhi and UP were a single unit till we gained Independence.
Chaat, the mere mention of its name brings to mind a range of lip smacking, tangy and spicy delicacies. This could be a combination of seasonal fruits cut in easy-to-eat chunks or a mix of boiled potatoes, chickpeas and papri. Garnished with a range of masalas and herbs like coriander leaves, a chaat preparation generally uses strained curd and thus has a cooling effect on our system and also diminishes any strain that the spices or chillies might exert.
From this simple chaat up in the north, the name undergoes a change as soon as a little variation is introduced in its form. Here we are talking about the paani puri. They are called bataasha in UP, referred to as gol gappas anywhere else in the north as well as in Mumbai and Gujarat and lovingly called puchkas in Kolkata. These little water balls are a fiery delight. Made up of maida or sooji, the paani puri has found a translation in chaat terms with much the same use of ingredients like boiled potatoes and chickpeas, chutneys and curds as any other preparation.
Bhel is another popular cousin of chaat. Made up of puffed rice, prepped with onion juliennes, chopped tomatoes, boiled potatoes, groundnuts, the typical masalas like amchoor and garam masala, this is a hot favourite with those who are watching their calorie intake. In Kolkata this snack, with a little alteration, makes for the famous jhaal muri. Jhaal is the local word for chilly. So jhaal muri refers to a spicy combination of muri or puffed rice with jhaal or chilly as per your taste. Mustard oil is sprinkled towards the end as a final touch to the muri preparation.
We will find out more about other delicious street offerings next time.
(The post appeared first as an article in the The New Indian Express on August 17, 2012)