Chaat, Puchka, Chaat (Delhi, Calcutta, Delhi, Jan-Feb 2020)


We returned from India on the 4th of February. It is now almost the end of August. The time seems right to finally post the last of my meal reports from our trip. This report encompasses one of our first meals out in Delhi on this trip as well as our very last meal out in Delhi; in between is a spot of eating in Calcutta. All these meals have one thing in common: chaat. As I noted many years ago in my first report on chaat on the blog (which you really should read), chaat is one of the genres of food I miss the most, living outside India, and it is one of the things I make sure to eat as much of as I can when I do go home to visit.

Though misguided Bombay’ites may pretend to believe otherwise, of the major Indian cities, Delhi reigns supreme when it comes to chaat. Chaat is available in every neighbourhood in Delhi, whether on street corners or in specialty restaurants. This is not to say that all Delhi neighbourhoods are held in the same esteem when it comes to chaat. Connoisseurs will tell you that for the best chaat in Delhi you have to head in the direction of Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi or towards Karol Bagh. I haven’t done that in a long time. My/our time in Delhi is always too short and heading out only for a meal is not something we ever have time for. The neighbourhoods we eat in are dictated by whoever it is we are meeting for lunch or dinner or wherever else it is we are going before or after a meal. I/we end up doing most of our chaat eating in the company of my nephews, who live in Gurgaon, and they usually take us to Galleria, an outdoor mall. I’ve previously reported on chaat eaten there in 2018 at Chaat Chowk.

We went back to Chaat Chowk  early in this trip. A few weeks later we were in Calcutta for a week for a family wedding (among other things) and one of the wedding events included a puchka and chaat counter. Even though a full-on wedding feast was set to follow shortly thereafter we couldn’t pass up eating some puchka etc. first as well. We came back to Delhi for one night before returning to Minnesota and couldn’t resist a return to Chaat Chowk; on this occasion we also gave some of our custom to their neighbouring competitors, Chaat ki Baat. Though none of these meals was actually eaten on a street, they approximated that proper experience of chaat better than sitting down to eat it in one of the many massive chaat specialists that have sprung up all over Delhi.

I’m not going to go into too much detail on the nature of chaat in this report. You can read more about it in my piece from 2014, or you can read this piece from the New York Times from 2005 (there was a more recent piece on chaat just this week in the Times by the inevitable Priya Krishna, but Julia Moskin’s piece from 2005 is better). If you have more questions I’m happy to try and answer them in the comments (and I’ll have more to say about Krishna’s and another recent article on chaat in the Washington Post soon in another of my roundups of writing about South Asian food). The important thing to remember is that the topmost tier of chaat comprises puchka/gol gappas/paani puri, paapri chaat and alu tikkis. This is non-negotiable as is the superiority of the tangier and spicier Calcutta puchka over the Delhi and Bombay counterparts, gol gappas and paani puri.

Okay, on to the chaat porn.

Chaat Chowk, Gurgaon (early January)

Puchka etc., Calcutta (late January)

Chaat ki Baat, Chaat Chowk, Gurgaon (early February)

I don’t know when I will be able to go back to India—I was supposed to be back this December but that’s not on the cards. Hopefully, next summer. If that happens I’ll look forward to eating a lot of not just chaat but mangoes as well. Until then, however, it’s going to be all Minnesota food reports, and all takeout meals for the foreseeable future.

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