There’s something about street food that accesses a completely unique pocket of happiness in our brains and hearts. Whether it’s chocolate churros, or a hotdog, or a pizza, when you’re in the right mood, and a you see that little kiosk, you gotta stop and spare a few bucks. The heart wants what it wants.
In India, there is street food everywhere and the varieties are abundant. When I was a little girl, my mom and I would go to India on occasional summer breaks. While mom was finding relief indoors from the sweltering heat, I wanted to go out and explore and walk the streets, see random cows in the street, watch rickshaws skate by each other ever so closely, hear the incessant honking and shouting, and take in the fresh diesel and cow dung in the air. Disorder. Entropy. I loved it. My mom was willingly releasing me to my older cousin’s supervision…she was enjoying the break from the pollution, the heat, and her impossible 10 year old. My cousin walked with me and asked, “do you want some chana chaat?”. I just said yes to her. If it was street food, I would always say yes.
We approached a stand at the corner, not much wider than the vendors shoulder width. It was a stainless steel stand assembled from street scraps and remnants of old machinery I’m sure. Indians are very skilled at re-purposing and upcycling…there’s really hardly any waste, except for the aforementioned cow dung. 🙂
What you see on his stand are little brown paper compartments filled with various “fixin’s”, as we say in Texas. I saw red onions, tomatoes, spices, green chilies, limes, and lots and lots of other ingredients. It’s a eyeful and my mouth starts to water. My cousin orders me one speaking in Hindi. I watched the vendor assemble my chana chaat and he did everything so quickly my eyes didn’t know where to go. He added everything into a worn, weathered steel cup and when he was done, he covered it and gave it a good martini-style shake. Then he picked a pre-folded newspaper, shaped it, and then emptied the chana chaat into the newspaper cup. And of course, my most favorite part: he shoves a small wooden spoon right into it as he hands it to me. And at that moment, the world is simply about me and the contents of my newspaper cup.
I started eating it and oh my gosh it was the spiciest thing I’d ever eaten. Purvi is just laughing at me and completely entertained that (1) street food thrills me so much and (2) that it’s too spicy for me. Yet, as we talk and walk, I am still eating it, and I my eyes are red and welled up from the heat/spice. I arrive back at my cousins apartment and my mom immediately stands up, completely alarmed, possibly scared, and wondering what happened. I am just grinning ear to ear, my face is completely covered with tears. Mom said “you nutcase, stop eating it, if it’s too spicy!” But I just kept eating. So my mom just kept her thoughts to herself thinking “she’ll learn her lesson the next morning”. Some choices have natural consequences.
Streetside Kala Chana Chaat
I made a very tolerable version, but you should certainly adjust the cayenne to your liking. The spicier, the better, but don’t be cryin’! I think a VERY VERY important part of the taste is making the newspaper cup. It really allows you to close your eyes and escape to India, just for a moment.
1 cup dry kala chana (“black chickpeas” or Bengal Gram, found in all Indian stores)
2 Tablespoons minced green mango (raw mango, or as under ripe as possible)
1 Tablespoon minced shallot
1/4 cup diced roma tomato
1 Tablespoon minced, seeded jalapeno
1 Tablespoon fresh squeezed lime juice
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt (not coarse salt)
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Soak the kala chana in 4 cups water and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda overnight or for 8 hours. Drain.
2. Boil the kala chana in 4 cups water and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda for 15 minutes. (You must change out the water after the previous step – do not boil in the same soaking water). Drain, rinse in cold water, and cool to room temperature.
3. In another bowl, combine the remaining ingredients. Add 1 cup cooked Kala Chana and mix well.
4. Make a small newspaper cup. I used this tutorial.
5. Serve chana chaat in your newspaper cup. Escape.
1. You can use the pressure cooker to cook the chana, but I wasn’t able to give “consistent” instructions, because everyone’s pressure cooker is different.
2. I used cayenne pepper which is not exactly Indian, but I find that I was able to make a reliable, repeatable recipe with that. Some chili powders in Indian stores vary in heat significantly.
3. Green mango is preferred, but if you can’t find that, find a mango that’s as green and under-ripe as possible. You might ask someone in produce if they’ve got something in the back room…