Chaat I -- Gol GappaOkay, the camera returneth, and so do I. With the first of our series on Chaat. Uniquely Indian, chaat comprises snacks that are lip-smacking in taste and easy on the wallet. Deadly combination for the majority there, and that explains the enormous popularity of chaat across the country. Chaat is also ubiquitous--you will find it on streets sold by vendors, in small restaurants, and even in five star hotels. For a while, they have also become a regular feature of the menu for social occasions such as weddings and other parties. Indeed, it's one of the best representatives of popular culture in India.
Delhi prides itself on its chaat, and I am lucky to have tasted the best of it, all over town. The snack we talk about today, Gol Gappa is an especially potent, high-voltage snack. What exactly is it? Let me see if I can explain it in plain terms. Basically, you have these spherical, deep-fried, puffed balls made from a dough of either wheat flour or semolina.
The balls are hollow inside, and that is how the magic of gol gappa happens. Here's how. When you go to the chaat vendor and ask for a plate of gol gappa, he would typically serve you around 6-8 of the flour balls. With his deft hands he would prepare the following concoction for you: Pierce the ball with the index finger to get a hole, then fill the inside of the ball with three delightful ingredients--yogurt, cubed, boiled potatoes, saunth or a thick, sweet chutney made of tamarind and sugar. Then, he would dip this filled-up ball into a green liquid--water flavoured with mint and lime.
All done within seconds and off it goes into your plate or leaf bowl. You just lift it real fast and gulp it, and whoa! The tangy sweet-sour combination along with the crispiness of the ball or gappa itself...smirking joy, bursting inside the food pipe. Once you have finished your plate, you get bowls full of the green water free of cost. It's an excellent digestive, what with mint and lime in it. It's also very refreshing, especially in summers, when the vendors put huge chunks of ice into the container holding the water.
Gol gappa is my personal favourite among all chaat items. I still remember the first time I had them. I was eight or nine and saw some neighbourhood ladies having this peculiar snack on the street across my house. Too tempted to resist, I went to join them. However, since I had no money, the only thing I could ask for was the green water. The usual practice is to taste the water first (much like testing the waters, eh?), and then, based on how fresh and delicious it is, go for the real gappas. The moment I had the water, I felt as if I had been electrocuted. My throat wasn't used to the knocking chilli punch that came by way of gulping the green liquid (yes, that's another important feature--chilli). It wasn't a pleasant experience, to say the least.
However, there was something irresistable about that eletrifying liquid, and I had to return to it. Soon, the very sight of gol gappas became like a magnet for me. I have got down from a public bus at an unknown stop simply because I spotted a gol gappa vendor, I have made numerous detours while returning home from work, just to go to a snack shop where they sold gol gappas, I have teamed up with an equally chaat-crazy colleague to go and snack on these ping-pong (the size of a gol gappa ball) delights on far too many evenings than was warranted. And the best of all...
a few years back, when a long time school friend bagged a high-profile job, he came over to give me the good news and offered to give me a treat. "What would you prefer," He asked. "Indian, or Chinese?" Looking at him sheepishly I said, "Umm, T, would you mind treating me to gol gappas?" T was taken aback. Here he was, ready to treat me in the best of restuarants in town, and I just wanted to have a plate of gol gappas?
Yep. That's the extent of my love for the gappas. If you haven't tasted one yet, go do it now! You won't take long to join my creed, I assure you.
PS: In Hindi, the word "chaat" literally means to lick.