A couple of years ago, I worked on one of the most fun projects of my career, for a client. It involved mapping the food landscape of India – as broad a brushstroke as you’ll ever see. Essentially it involved, among other things, mapping the history of India’s culinary evolution, understanding regional cuisines across the four regions, decoding the philosophy, medical beliefs and social developments that shape India’s food behavior and, most importantly for us, getting to go on foodwalks across many cities, eating at some of the most interesting and experimentative restaurants ( Indian Accent, for example) and getting paid for it!
One of the most memorable outings was a food walk in Old Delhi with Sohail Hashmi. He is a history buff who really knows his Purani Dilli backwards, from how it looked in the time of Shah Jahan to its streets, architecture, the life of people, legends and the many nooks and crannies that guard its delicious food secrets. Among the more exotic things we got to taste – fruit sandwiches invented for the traditionally vegetarian bania families that visited Old Delhi to go wedding trousseau shopping, which consist of white bread layered with various fruit, a thin layer of paneer and a special secret chutney/ masala that brings it all together. Mithai and chocolates in virtuoso shapes or flavor combinations, which are now sent out to invitees along with wedding cards. The most exquisite double-ka-meetha I have ever had, behind Matia Mahal – crisp on the surface, soft and spongy underneath and the perfect level of sweetness, laced with saffron. Freshly baked nan khatai biscuits sold on a cart. In fact, it’s really difficult to pace yourself so you have enough appetite for all the goodies that you come across, and both times I’ve been there, I’ve missed out on the famous dahi vadas as I was too full.
Kulle ki chaat is a special chaat made up primarily of stuffed veggies and involving no frying so at first we were skeptical – how good could it be? But one bite and we were converts. It’s really simple to put together, crisp and cooling and so delicious one thinks of health benefits only later!
Tomatoes - 2
Cucumber - 2
Potatoes - 2
Papaya - 1
Pineapple – 1 (Optional)
Boiled chickpeas - handful
Boiled potatoes – 2, cubed tiny
Half a cup of pomegranate seeds
Half a cup of pomegranate seeds
Chaat masala to taste
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped fine
Juice of 1.5-2 limes
Cut the cucumber vertically into halves, then into 1.5 inch chunks, hollowing out the seeds. You can also try cutting it into cylinders and hollow out most of the seed core, leaving a thin layer at one end as a base. Tomatoes – chop off a slice from the top and then scoop out the inside. With potatoes – boil some mid-sized potatoes until just soft but not too soft. Chop in half and scoop out some of the boiled potato from the center, leaving a bowl to be filled. Chop the papaya and pineapple into 1 inch thick slabs.
Mix the cubed potatoes, boiled chickpeas, coriander leaves, pomegranate seeds, chaat masala and lime juice in a separate bowl. Spoon in to the hollow veggies/ onto the fruit slabs.
Serve immediately - as a snack, pre-meal salad or drinks accompaniment -and bask in a healthy halo!