Hey cheapsters, it's time to chat about chaat. About sassy, saucy snack food that goes snap, crackle and pop without milk or Saturday morning cartoons. About peculiar white lentils tucked inside fried dough and buried under an avalanche of chickpeas, yogurt, cilantro and puckering tamarind and cilantro chutneys.
About how surprisingly tart and yummy salty yogurt is when you suck it through a straw like a milkshake. About the slippery and sloppy delight of eating the Indian equivalent of the Greek diner's rice pudding: curdled milk balls soaked in sugary milk and cardamom.
It's time to chat about the Bombay Chaat House, the area's first of its kind Indian snack shack. Some Indian restaurants have chaat sections on their menus, but eating chaat in a restaurant before a regular meal doesn't live up to the spirit of chaat. Chaat is so delicious on its own it should spoil your appetite, not entice it.
Even with its analogy as Indian snack or fast food, the chaat concept "is sometimes hard to explain," says owner Romy Sial. Chaat stands and carts are ubiquitous around her native India, and are becoming increasingly popular in larger American metropolitan areas.
Sial's new operation is more permanent, with a few tables just in case you want to eat on the spot. Other people describe chaat as snacks. I like to think of chaat as an exhilarating but short-lived rendezvous between fried (and sometimes dried) and fresh (and often wet).
Short-lived, because eating chaat is always a race against sogginess. The fried could be papri (fried wheat flour wafers, not unlike potato chips), bhel poori (puffed rice mélange that really does make the same sound as the cereal once the chutneys are added), samosa (vegetable-stuffed fritter) or kachori chaat (the lentil fritters with fixings described above). The fresh is boiled, cubed potatoes, chick peas, cilantro, chiles, yogurts and chutney.
The other nice thing about snacks compared to meals is that they generally cost less. If you aren't hungry enough yet for lunch, you only have to commit $1 for a nice snack-sized samosa or $3 to $4 for the same samosa with the fixings.
Bombay Chaat House also speedily delivers combo packages that you can call a real meal, such as chicken biryani. On Thursday, you can get chicken curry with vegetables and rice or naan ($6.99), and on Fridays and Saturday, chola bhatura (chickpeas with fried bread for $5.99).
All this savory yang may need balancing with sweet yin. For that the chaat house obliges with Sial's own raas milai (milk-soaked milk balls mentioned earlier), gulab jaamun (fried milk balls) and an impressive spread of burfi (Indian fudge).