It's a zing thing

It's a zing thing

“You no longer have to go New Delhi, Mumbai or Lucknow to taste the real stuff. Now, authentic chaat is available in your own city!” These words, accompanied by colourful and attractive illustrations of mouth watering chaat delicacies, flashed from an ad. My husband and I could not help but succumb to this irresistible offer.

The interiors of the eatery were fancy and impressive. It was air conditioned, well-lit, neat and clean, with modular plastic furniture of bright and varying hues. An elaborate menu was displayed, bold and clear, on an eye catching board.  Self service ensured minimum customer turnaround time. Impeccably uniformed waiters with white hand gloves cleared the tables briskly. Purified water dispensers were placed at vantage points.

Once your turn was flashed on a digital screen, you carried your picture perfect, meticulously arranged tray to your table. It was all very posh and clinically precise. As my husband and I sat, silently trying to relish the so-called authentic chaat, my mind went back 30 years.

As a child, I frequented a roadside chaat joint in New Delhi. The fun was in surrounding the chaatwala and eating straight out of his hands. The menu had gol gappas, papdi chaat and alu tikki.

The culinary adventure began with gol gappas. Dried leaves were pinned together with tiny sticks and folded into the shape of a bowl by the chaatwala. Soft boiled potatoes and chanas were then mashed, seasoned and garnished with freshly ground spices, their aroma tickling our taste buds. He would wipe his hands on a not-so-clean red checkered gamcha, and offer a wee bit of the mixture for our approval.

Having obtained the go-ahead, he would deftly press his thumb into the wafer thin gol gappa to make a neat hole. Filled with the mixture, it would  then be dipped into a big earthen pot containing a tangy and spicy tamarind-laced concoction. The end result was most delectable, creating magic in the mouth.

The papdi chaat was prepared right under your nose, so you could exercise your choice of less or more spices, additional dahi or chutney as toppings on the them. The preparation was crunchy, sumptuous and mouth-watering.

The alu tikkis were a lip smacking combination of mashed shallow fried potatoes, spices and hot and sweet chutneys. Bearing a “come hither” look, they sizzled noisily on the  tawa placed on a low charcoal fire, growing crisper as the chaatwala repeatedly sprinkled oil around them. He expertly divided the tikkis horizontally, exposing their soft interiors, sprinkled chutney and spices, and served them piping hot straight from the tawa on to your plate. It was service with a smile, accompanied by a personal touch.

Back to reality, I looked at my unappetising chaat tray, as I nibbled the cold alu tikkis. The fragrance of freshly chopped coriander leaves and roasted jeera powder were conspicuous by their absence. The taste of the gol gappa paani was insipid in comparison to what we had tasted in the bygone days. The whole culinary experience was a near disaster, and such a contrast to what we had savoured in our childhood days.

Alas, no amount of attractive and colo­urful décor, plush interiors, and well-laid out trays can compensate for the punch and zing in our good old preparations.