I simply ADORE paapdi-chaat. When presented with a plate, I refuse to share. Selfishly surrendering myself to the sweet-sour-spicy explosion in my mouth. I eat this snack-meal with a mixture of gluttony, excitement and reverence, marveling at the chaat gods who came up with this absolute delight. A mainstay of Indian street food, it never fails to please the senses.
My earliest recollection of paapdi-chaat (we also called it dahi-paapdi) is eating at a street vendor in Malviya Nagar, New Delhi, when I was but a girl. The chaat stand was manned by a fairly toothless man with wizened hands (I should know, because I remember standing on my toes, constantly checking to make sure he added enough chutney). He sold an array of street food – including explosive gol gappas fiery aloo tikkis (I’ll wax eloquent on these in another post), crammed into a little open air stall, strategically located opposite a large store that sold delectable sweets. And the place was so crowded, it always seemed to me like all of Malviya Nagar, if not most of Delhi would choose to converge here, just when I Needed a Paapdi-Chaat, much to my chagrin.
And this man would be there, come rain or shine, serving up plate after plate of chaat. To families, shoppers, commuters, errant school children playing truant, hawkers, fellow tradesmen and the ubiquitous hangers-on. Aided by a couple of younglings, masters of order forecasting and fulfillment with no software to aid them. I distinctly remember seeing the man’s hands trembling in the winter from standing outside for hours with chilled vats of yogurt and chutney in front of him, nestled in blocks of ice. For we would be there come summer or winter, and like most (insensitive) children my age, I would be singularly focused on the plate that came my way, not caring if the man was on the verge of a heat stroke or hypothermia.
He would start with the paapdis, arranging them in a circle on the plate. Top it with pieces of boiled potato and black chana. Drizzle it with two chutneys, spicy and sweet. Bury them under spoonfuls of cold yogurt. Toss in a chopped green chilli (or two). Dust it with an array of spices – chilli powder, cumin powder, amchur, salt, pepper. Top it with chopped coriander leaves and crispy sev. And we would wait for him to hand the plate over, tongues hanging out.
I don’t remember if this place even had a name, or if it even exists anymore. With its origins in North India paapdi-chat has since migrated across the country as well as the globe. And I have relentlessly hunted it down, searching for the perfect plate whether in Boston or Bangalore. I can also put together a mean plate in the comfort of my home these days.
Tastes nothing like what the Man in Malviya Nagar made, though.