Chaat couture: Gourmetfication of the quintessential curbside snack
Chefs are celebrating humble Indian street food with luxe pairings, vibrant flavours and imaginative presentations.
Chaat — a street food offering with a blend of fried ingredients, veggies and spice mixes layered together and doused in tangy chutneys — is one of India’s most exciting culinary creations. Playing on the original flavours are gourmet chaats, which are attired, artistic and healthier versions of this street classic, and are making their way to fine-dining establishments.
Rising acclaim from international chefs is also popularising the snack globally. American celebrity chef Eitan Bernath recently created his own version of the dish and shared on social media that he had been “dreaming of the aloo tikki chaat since the second I left the street food cart when I ate it in India”.
Tapping into chaat’s creative potential
Gourmet caterers are making chaat a personalised experience by tailoring them for people with food-related restrictions. The elevated presentations also reflect their place of origin. “We do vegan, gluten-free and sattvik chaat counters for weddings and private gatherings. We also have region-based servings like Banarasi Palak Patta Chaat and a contemporary version of white peas chaat from Kanpur. Each combination reflects a vision and why it was created,” says Sakshi Tuli, founder of The Chaat Story, a gourmet chaat venture.
Chaat gives you a culinary canvas where anything and everything is a possibility, she says. “Sev, chickpeas, fried grams, brown sugar, exotic fruits, olives, berries, baby potatoes, edible flowers — a chaat can accommodate all these toppings and more,” adds the food stylist, who started her venture two years ago as traditional chaat caterers started getting affected by the pandemic closures.
Another gourmet catering company, Art of Chaat, has added a range of fusion chicken and seafood chaats as well as specialities from Varanasi, Agra, Indore and Kolkata into its menu, pushing the boundaries of this space.
Innovating the classic flavours
The snack is rooted in India’s diverse mainland. Elements such as vada, papdi, dahi and tamarind chutney date back to the Vedas and the Mahabharata, with references to curd-soaked vadas turning into chaat found in ancient texts.
Today, the evolving dining scene has taken on the classic dish to serve innovative versions. “We are experimenting with diverse flavours and there is novelty in presentation that excites the guests,” says executive chef Swapnadeep Mukherjee, who serves chaats that include Tikka Chana Jor, Chatpata Jhinga Chaat, Makhmali Seekh Kabab Chaat and Khasta Raj Kachori Chaat at Chutney Bar & Tandoor, The Metropolitan Hotel & Spa, New Delhi.
Chef Manish Mehrotra says that gourmands are excited to celebrate the street delicacy in its new-age avatar. Listening to the myriad requests made by customers to a chaat-wala, the chef realised that one common request is for the potato patty to be crisp. “At Indian Accent, I replaced the potato patty with a crisp potato sphere, topped with yogurt and spicy chutneys, to make a delectable starter,” he says.
The Gourmet Couch delivery and takeaway service at ITC Maurya, launched during the pandemic, offers also offers a Chaat and Chat menu with highlights like Golgappa with the duo of Narangi and Teekha Mirch Maljeera, Khasta Papdi with dahi and saunth, Kachodi with Dahi Haldi Ke Aalo. “The chaat scene encompasses an explosion of flavours that harmonise into one delightful experience. Taking them up a notch to the gourmet table, the chaat is getting a makeover while remaining true to its original roots,” says area executive chef Rajdeep Kapoor at ITC Maurya.