Picture credit: Shweta in the Kitchen
Chaat! (Hindi verb “chaatna” meaning to lick)
Diverse and indigenous cuisine brought by the many ethnic people to St. Maarten from all over the world piques our interest. To this end, we are on a quest to find where it comes from, if it is used for celebrations, if it is exotic to some but everyday food to others. Anything to do with keeping the body and soul nourished with that which is produced from good old terra firma, is what makes the world go around.
Oh boy, yum, yum – street food around the world is something we can all try, if we are brave enough. In South Africa, depending on the area one is in, one can get delicious samosas filled with mutton, beef, chicken or vegetables. (These are not like the ones we see here in St. Martin.)
Then one may find a truck with fresh fruit and veggies on a street corner, or a stand with sodas. In the African “locations”, one can find stands (I guess these are known as “pop-ups” these days) with braaied meats, corn or “putu” (like grits) and “sous” (sauce), but street food is not a big thing. In Brazil, one finds stands at bus stops, street corners and everywhere along streets where they are cooking a batch of “acaraje” in large pans of palm oil, cooking roasted corn over a fire burning in a steel inner rim of an old car, as well as fresh fruit juices and sweet treats. There is a multitude of flavours on the streets there.
Street food is not very big in Europe or England either (in these countries, there are small cafes, tea rooms, bars and shops to pop into to get that tasty morsel of every cuisine).
However, in Asia, there is a totally different scene. Of course, one knows that in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, the street food is renowned as being other worldly. (if one can eat some of those suspicious looking foods, one is very brave.)
India has some of the tastiest street food too. Not having been to India has meant that we will look up a recipe or two, attempt to make the said recipe and eat it along with some delicious, crispy packets of Indian snack food like Bhel Puri, sev and the like.
One flavour that one hears about (when one has this interest in food) is Chaat. Just what is Chaat? Well, it is a spice that one can buy in wee boxes at the supermarket. Use it in recipes that require this delightful flavoured powder – it is especially good with the sweet/sour flavour from tamarind. Chaat masala is a distinct spice blend used specifically in chaat snacks.
And chaat also means a group of savoury snacks, typically served roadside from stalls or food carts across South Asia – India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Originating in Uttar Pradesh, India, chaat has become immensely popular. It is likened to Tapas or Meze in that it is a number of small tastes offered as hors d'oeuvres – one can make a meal of these and forego the main course. This is what we experienced at one of the esteemed Indian restaurants on St. Martin/St. Maarten recently – a seven-course vegetarian meal of just wee chaat dishes. Outstanding!
The first dish we had was Panipuri (a popular chaat) which we have enjoyed before here on island. Panipuri is a deep-fried, crispy, breaded sphere. It is hollow and so the top is gently smashed in with the back of a teaspoon and then filled with potato, onion, or chickpea. Dhania (coriander) chutney, tamarind chutney and spiced with chaat masala finish this morsel. The one we enjoyed at the special evening was really upmarket in that it was filled with buratta, tomato ice and balsamic. Oh yes, street food can definitely be upgraded.
Chaat morsels are generally based on fried dough, various other ingredients are then added. Some of the various chaats included alu tikkis, samosa, bhel puri, dahi puri, panipuri, dahi vada, papri chaat, and sev puri.
Our second chaat was a rice and noodle dish flavoured with apple, mint and tamarind. This dish was gentle like an amuse bouche in that it certainly refreshed the taste buds. This was followed by a Papdi chaat. The one served us in the restaurant was a revelation in the bursts of flavours. I will offer a recipe below which I think you will enjoy trying.
We also devoured a Dhokla chaat, possibly my favourite. The crispy kale garnish along with pickled red onion and spice oil just rounded out this dish.
The deconstructed Samosa chaat was an interesting dish; some at our table found it sweet – not surprising as the ingredients included both butternut and jackfruit. The flavours, different as they were, were once again delightful.
There was also a Cheese toast pop – a glorified cheese-filled French toast fried on a sucker stick – good home comfort-food that would make an excellent family Sunday supper. The sauce included tomatoes and red peppers. Ketchup never tasted this good.
This was followed by a Beet root Tiki patty, topped with grated carrot – light and refreshing before a wonderful dessert. I think my favourite chaat was a sev noodle with pomegranate in a cucumber frame. The flavours, crispy and cooing elements were outstanding. The dessert was a special creation that we would love to enjoy once again. Panipuri – this time filled with vanilla crème, chocolate and chocolate sprinkles – was light, crispy and very moreish!
Now, although we enjoyed a vegetarian meal of various chaat, one can always use one’s imagination and add meat or fish.
There are small samosas in the freezer section – drizzle with tamarind chutney once baked.
Boil some potatoes, cube small and serve in little dishes drizzled with both coriander and tamarind chutneys – top with Bhel puri or sev for the crispy finish. Shrimp and burrata in Panipuri sounds good – one can buy premade Panipuri. Fill and drizzle with tomato chaat chutney.
Chaat as a meal is as good as meze and tapas. Just prep what is needed and then at the last minute, you can put it all together when you want to serve as it takes no time at all.
Papdi Chaat – you can buy packets of Papdi – look in the Asian/Indian section.
Papdi store bought – these are like a salty cracker (you should have about 24)
1 cup plain thick, whole milk yogurt
1 tsp sugar
1/3 cup cilantro chutney
1/3 cup tamarind chutney
¾ cup canned chickpeas, boiled
1 medium potato boiled, cut into cubes
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp chaat masala
1 tsp black salt
Good pinch Kashmiri red chili powder, to taste
Pomegranate – removed from fresh fruit
Thin, crispy sev (you will find this in packets)
Whisk yogurt and sugar together until smooth.
Boil potatoes and chickpeas in separate saucepans.
Cut potatoes into small cubes.
Arrange Papdi onto a serving plate.
Top with a good scattering of the boiled chickpeas and the boiled potatoes cubes.
Drizzle with yogurt to taste.
Sprinkle cumin powder, chaat masala, black salt and Kashmiri red chili powder all over.
Drizzle the chutneys over all of the ingredients.
Top with pomegranate, sev and chopped cilantro.
Serve immediately – the crackers get soggy if this dish is set aside.
Tamarind and Date Chutney
½ cup seedless tamarind paste
½ cup seedless dates
½ cup jaggery
2-3 cups water
½ tsp fennel powder
1 tsp coriander powder
½ tsp cumin powder
1 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder
½ tsp dry ginger powder
¼ tsp chaat masala to taste
Salt to taste
Add tamarind, dates and jaggery to a pot with 2 cups of water.
Boil for at least 10 minutes.
Add tsp fennel powder, coriander powder, cumin powder, Kashmiri red chili powder, ginger powder, chaat masala and salt.
Simmer for 2 minutes.
If the chutney is too thick, then up to 1 more cup of water can be added.
Mix and mash then sieve tamarind and dates.
Poha – a morning meal (breakfast or brunch) made from rice flakes. Cubed boiled potato can also be added to the rice flakes.
1½ cup poha, thick
1 tsp sugar
¾ tsp salt
¼ tsp turmeric
Rinse thick poha flakes in a bowl of water and drain off the water.
Add sugar, salt and turmeric.
Mix gently with your fingers – careful not to make the poha mushy.
Set aside for 10 minutes.
2 TBL oil
2 TBL peanuts
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp cumin
Pinch Hing (asafetida)
3 curry leaves
2 chilis, (to taste) finely chopped
1 inch ginger, grated
1 onion, finely chopped
¼ tsp turmeric
¼ tsp salt
2 TBL coriander, finely chopped
½ lemon sliced
Heat oil in a saucepan and gently toast the peanuts – set aside.
To the same oil, add mustard, cumin, pinch Hing and 3 curry leaves, stir a minute.
Add chili to taste, grated ginger and onion, sauté until the onions begin to soften.
Add turmeric and salt, sauté stirring about a minute.
Add soaked poha, gentle mix well together.
Cover, simmer 3 minutes.
Add fried peanuts, coriander, stir mix well.
Serve in small bowls with a slice of lemon.
Drizzle with chaat chutney.