You may have seen the word ‘chaat’ before, and if you are familiar with the Indian term, then you know you are blessed. Chaat refers to the little snacks often served roadside in stalls or food carts. Typically a vendor will specialize in one type of chaat, often starting with pieces of dough and vegetables. Almost all certainly vegetarian or vegan in nature. One of the more popular places in India to find chaat is along the boardwalk at Chowpatty beach in Mumbai, India. Here you will find many shrines to the Hindu gods, and is the place of one of the largest Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations. There are also plenty of chaat stalls to be found. Think of chaat as more of recreation and celebration than of fine dining.
In Dallas we have several examples of chaat, mostly found in Irving. The shining example is Bombay Chowpatty. Now that you understand the meaning of the restaurant’s name, you can probably already guess what you will find at the restaurant. The owner tried to give off a feel of what you might find while strolling seaside on the famous beach. The kitchen is very open, and has a festive atmosphere.
Here you will find a festive atmosphere decorated in chaat stall signage, and plenty of Bollywood references. You will be surrounded by families taking in their favorite dishes with plenty of revelry. A shining example is the serving of pani puri. Although you could order these tiny bite-sized puffs filled with their spicy fillings and ladled with a flavorful broth, it is best to stand before the pani puri maker and munch on them as fast as he can make them. If this were a real stall on the famous beach, you might find a dozen people lined up being hand fed these delightful and festive balls. On our visit we each ate four knowing that there were plenty more dishes coming. I could have eaten twenty easily. This is also probably the spiciest chaat of he evening, with a certain heat that builds up. Take advantage of the water stations located at the back of the restaurant.
One of my very favorite chaat is the dosa. A dosa is a versatile street food that is prepared with a crepe-like shell made of rice and lentils, and filled with ingredients that can be served with varying spice levels. The dosa are served with a fresh tomato and fresh coconut chutney and served with sambar, a flavorful lentil soup that is used for dipping. Each bite should receive a bit of chutney and the sambar treatment for maximum flavor. These are definitely fun finger foods. To watch a dosa being made at Chowpatty, we made a video that can be seen on craveDFW’s Facebook page.
Ande Ki Bhurji or ‘Spicy Scrambled Eggs’ is a quick street food snack that is also eaten at breakfast. The spice of green chilies, the sweetness of onions and the tang of tomatoes along with the creaminess of eggs makes this a wonderful dish. Ande Ki is a perfect chaat and they are made at Chowpatty, but you may also get tiny ‘omelets’. There is one particular special omelet made with oiled eggs. You will need to ask for this one on the sly since it is currently an off-menu item. The cooks would not tell us how it is made, but it is a bit spicy and has this definite meat flavor, even though there is absolutely none in the recipe.
Another delicious choice in chaat are the various vada pav, which are tiny sandwiches made with a variety of fritters or a curry blend. Although the taste is nothing like it, consider these to be the veg hamburger of India. We especially enjoyed the Pav Batata Baji made with spicy potato.
Khada Pav Bhaji is one of the more famous of all the street foods, and is made with numerous vegetables, masala, and topped with onion and cilantro for that extra kick. This is served with a freshly toasted bakery roll and eaten as a spread for the bread. You will more than likely run out of the bread, and will resort to spooning up the final morsels.
Finish your meal with a cold and creamy kulfi, or one of the shaved ice presentations made with cream, syrups, nuts and bits of fruit. Although we were not necessarily wanting to devour a shaved ice, we did order, and we did finish it to the last morsel. It was delicious.
Bombay Chowpatty is certainly an adventure in flavor to be enjoyed with a group, almost tapas or dim sum style. But do not fear the solo visit, as good food awaits to be captivated. The employees are eager to please and will share their opinions as they shovel out the many pani puri you will want to eat.