How Delhi’s Modern Kitchens Are Making Chaat Their Own
Image Credit: Instagram/indianaccent

If you live in Delhi and were above the drinking age in the 2000s, you’ve probably tried vodka golguppas. A mainstay on the menu at the restaurant Punjabi By Nature back then, these gol guppas were served with shots of spicy paani that had vodka in it. They became popular with the college crowd and earned Punjabi By Nature substantial revenue. Different versions of golguppas have followed since then. 

At Indian Accent in Delhi, chef Manish Mehrotra added golguppas with five types of water on the menu. Indian Accent’s golguppas are served with “Calcutta jhal potato” and and the five types of brightly coloured water are explained as everything is brought to your table. Bhawan, a newish street food delivery service in Delhi and NCR, also allows you to choose from three types of water with golguppas: green chilli and tamarind, mint and hing, and pomegranate and cumin. The golguppas at Bhawan come in three different varieties too: atta, ragi atta and sooji. 

Besides golguppas, other types of chaat have been experimented with, too. Indian Accent has a potato sphere chaat with white pea ragda (inspired by aloo tikki) on its menu. Sometimes, the restaurant’s summer menu also includes a chicken and pomelo chaat. Chaat is primarily vegetarian and so the use of chicken is novel. The addition of an unusual fruit like pomelo also earns the chef bonus points. 

While these innovations are indicators of creativity and a desire to create food that is different from what most people are used to, some of it can sometimes take away the nostalgic associations we have with street food. The whole idea of street food is tied to messiness and imperfection: water drips out of golguppas as we try to eat them and dahi drips down shirts when people put a bhalla in their mouths. While this casual clumsiness can also come with eating at fine dining restaurants, there’s still some finesse and the concept of table manners attached to it. For instance, there’s no vendor dipping a puri into a container of spicy water at Indian Accent. The water is served in glass cups, and diners are expected to pour it into the puris themselves. Similarly, when golguppas are home-delivered from Bhawan, customers get to enjoy a sanitised version where the water is either poured into a bowl to dip the puri in, or poured directly into the puri with a spoon. 

Mouthfuls of convenient, sanitised chaat may still be tasty, but they do end up taking the street out of street food. Chaat should be evocative and remind people of dusty lanes, chatty vendors and messy eating. When modern kitchens take on the challenge of preparing chaat, they miss out on the quintessential components that make it what it is.