Indian children love the Khomcha-Wallah. He wanders the streets, the busier the better, basket of goodies on his head and a cane stool under his arm. When he encounters a likely crowd he sets down his basket on the stool and starts to trade. The basket will contain the half-prepared ingredients of what is known in northern India as chaat – savoury snacks from traditional Hindu cuisine – which may be served in a banana leaf bowl.
One item might be Aloo Chaat which is fried, golden-brown potato cubes tossed with chilli powder, roasted cumin powder and chaat masala**.
Another, Dhai Baras which are split-pea patties. They will be already fried and softened in warm water. To complete the dish the Khomcha-Wallah may add beaten, creamy plain yoghurt with salt on top, and a choice of spice mixes. One mixture will be aromatic and probably contain roasted cumin, black pepper and dried mango powder, another will be hot a fiery with chillies, another sweet and sour like tamarind chutney.
Some Indian cities have become renowned for a certain sort of chaat – Jaipur for Paapri Chaat (similar to Dhai Baras but served with cubed potatoes chick peas) and Mumbai for Pau Bahji (spicy potato and vegetable curry served in a bun) but it is Delhi which is the chaat capital of India.
Some other chaats are:
Aloo Samosa – little pastry triangles filled with a spicy mixture of small diced potatoes and peas with chillies, chilli powder, fresh coriander, cumin and garam masala.
Keema Samosa – similar to above but including minced beef or lamb.
Aloo Tikki – mashed potato mixed with peas, cumin powder, corn flour, chilli powder and salt, formed into patties and fried until crisp and golden.
Tandoori Chicken Chaat – Tandoori chicken, shredded and mixed with diced green mango, onions, green chillies, coriander leaves and chaat masala**, dressed with lemon juice, oil and chilli powder.
**Chaat Masala is a spice mix made by combining the following ingredients.
- 4 tsp powdered dried mango
- 3 tsp cumin seeds, roasted and ground
- 3 tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp coriander seeds, roasted and ground
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp fennel seeds, roasted and ground (optional)
- ¼ tsp cayenne pepper