Chaat wallah wallah wallah wallah

Mmmmm... savory snacks

I’ve tried to come up with a way to define, explain, demarcate chaat. I give up with any translation that goes beyond the English word “snack.” Indeed the online dictionaries seem to have my back on this one.

Chaat often combines small fried things — chips, crisps, discs, balls, puris, etc. — with various vegetables and the like: tomatoes, onions, mirch, chickpeas, beans, whathaveyou. And, of course, there’s spice and usually lime juice.

The photos and chaat boy above come from outside the shrine to Salim Chisti in Fatehpur Sikri. See below for more.

Indians love their chaat. So much so that they’ll stop what they’re doing just to partake. Like when my rickshawwallah decides it’s time for chaat and pulls off the road despite my insistence in Hindi that I’m already late for a date. Or when an interview is abruptly stalled because the office boy brings in plates of chaat in little bowls made of pressed leaves.

Of course, the Indian demand for chaat has led to the necessary omnipresence of the chaat wallah — the chaat man, or the chaat guy. He usually parks himself, sometimes with as little as a big plate, sometimes with an elaborate cart, on a road side, on a door step, outside a temple, on public transportation (thankfully not the Metro), and waits.

If you chaat it, they will come.

I want but I can't have

The chaat wallahs are very inventive and also vary by region. Bikaner, in Rajasthan, is famous for its chaat, though that’s mostly dry and packaged. So is Bombay, and I must say the Bombay bhelpuri guys know what’s what.

It’s also worth noting that many of the chaat men are really just chaat boys. Which is admittedly a little sad: their lives tethered to an enormous nation’s lust for snacks.

Despite the delicious appearance of all the wonderful chaat and all the wonderful stands, I usually am forced to abstain owing to my skepticism over hygiene of the chaat man. The water, alone, would probably make my gut explode.

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