Friday, April 20, 2007

The Chaat of Destiny

Some paragraphs were accidentally omitted from Somini Sengupta's recent article on Chaat and other Delhi street foods in the New York Times. Because I am a devoted Somini Sengupta groupie (a "Sengroupie," if you will), I was sent the missing paragraphs as a gift, under strict order not to reveal my sources:

The reporter visits a lost alleyway in Mastinagar, a suburb of Delhi. In the alley are an endless variety of special chaat stalls unknown to western taste-buds and unimagined by western food tourists. This is as “street” as it gets; if pressed, the people of this alley all state that they have never been near an air-conditioner or even a piece of plastic. Indeed, it is highly unclear whether the residents of Mastinagar have ever been outside Mastinagar, or even know that their “Shehr” is in the city and state of Delhi. In the lost alley, one finds an almost infinite variety of Chaats, some of which were tasted by a reporter. A short list of the highlights follows:

Orientalist Chaat: This type of chaat will fulfill all your desires for mystical knowledge and understanding, and set your brain on fire. If this chaat is eaten, it is said, the eater will learn a thousand yoga poses (a DVD is included), a thousand Sanskrit chants that will lead to Enlightenment, and perpetual unity of mind and body in pure relaxation bliss. After eating, you will have reached the other side of the moon, tasted the stars, found the ergonomically perfect chair, and finally know the answer to the question, Why Did the Bodhi-Dharma Leave For the East? (NOTE: Insiders report that Orientalist Chaat is exactly the same as regular Chaat, only 10,000 times more expensive.)

Erotic Chaat: This chaat is an aphrodisiac composed entirely of garlic and crushed Viagra powder. Not especially tasty, but surprisingly "potent," as a reporter subsequently discovered.

Chaat Feng Shui: This Chaat, which is composed entirely of wind, water, and garam masala, is not meant to be eaten, but rather dispersed around a room in need of redecoration. Pirated Chaat Feng Shui originates from China, which continues to flood the Indian market with inexpensive rip-offs of actual Feng Shui.

Message Chaat: Kiwi, lime, mustard seeds, and ice cubes. Once the ice cubes have melted on your tongue, it is said, your message has been telepathically sent to the individual you are thinking of (the strength of the message is increased if the recipient has also eaten chaat recently). This type of Chaat is especially popular with Delhi's young men, who are notoriously shy when it comes to talking to women they are not closely related to.

Immunity Chaat: The demons that chase you will be temporarily silenced by this chaat. Their multifarious coloration will be neutralized to blue, and the eater will suddenly be able to eat the blinking blue demons for extra points. This Chaat is also said to protect the eater from "Delhi Belly," and is generally eaten by those who are planning to go on to eat other Chaats. As a result, some Chaat addicts of Mastinagar jokingly refer to Immunity Chaat as the "Gateway Chaat."

Penn Masala Chaat: This chaat tastes a little syrupy, but it is known to cause the eater to burst into spontaneous acapella renditions of Bollywood tunes.

Raagapella Chaat: Raagapella Chaat is ssentially similar to Penn Masala Chaat, but with a funny/clever desi-ized version of "Motel." Many insiders predict Raaagapella Chaat will soon give Penn Masala Chaat a run for its money.

Gandi Chaat: Universally known as the best, most sublime form of chaat of all, Gandi chaat (also known as "Drrrty Chaat") is exceptionally rare. This chaat is made of pure, ancient Indian dirt, and is served with ketchup. What constitutes the dirt is of course a strictly guarded secret; insiders say it comes from tribal regions of India that have never once been visited by outsiders, where all the inhabitants are albinos. Food archeologists have been desperate to understand the properties of this mysterious form of chaat, and have repeatedly tried to have samples sent by secure couriers to western labs for analysis. But the Drrrty Chaat is so addictive that no courier has every withstood temptation -- and the Chaat has always somehow gotten eaten along the way. All the couriers have also mysteriously died, leading to the rumor that this Chaat, if ingested outside of India, will lead to instantaneous death.

(What other varieties of Chaat can be found in Mastinagar?)

Labels: , ,


Sourav said...

Kanhaiyalal No. 1 Deluxe Speshul Chaat: Made by none other than Mr. Kanhaiyalalji - world famous in Delhi and Gurgaon. Taste like mother's cooking, prepared with motherly love. Come once, come forever. Custom made to suit taste, with all variety of famous Indian spices.

12:25 AM  
Anonymous said...

I'm a lover of all chaat, especially the mastinagar variety. Brilliant piece.

12:55 AM  
Shreeharsh said...

I don't understand -- are you saying that the article was orientalist?

10:27 AM  
Amardeep said...

Shreeharsh, I'm mainly having fun with Sengupta's approach to the subject -- she's translating for a western audience a particularly Indian "acquired taste."

There might at times be a certain light orientalism in her piece, though it's not especially troubling. My "Orientalist Chaat" is a reference to that: what are western tourists looking for in India, and how much are they willing to pay for it?

But I should also add that in some ways reading her article on chaat just made me excited about the possibilities of chaat by itself. The rest of my made-up varieties of chaat speak to the almost magical diversity of street food.

10:26 AM  
Jackie Tan said...

Chaat Feng Shui sounds a bit odd. Sounds like it goes against Feng Shui principles of keeping things organized, uncluttered and generally mess-free?

12:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home