Sweet, sour, salty and spicy, these are the familiar tastes of Indian street food, or simply chaat. What makes chaat unique is that all four of these tastes are often part of one food through the creative use of ingredients. Meat and poultry play a subtle, yet important role in chaat, providing protein, texture and savory deliciousness.
Nearly 40% of Americans are interested in trying international street foods, according to Chicago-based Mintel. And India, one of the most populous places in the world, has a bustling street food scene woven throughout its vast countryside. The streets of New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata are particularly fertile grounds for sampling varied chaat.
Distinctive spice and herb combinations give Indian cuisine its exotic aroma and flavor, according to Becca Henrickson, marketing manager, Wixon, St. Francis, Wis. That’s what makes chaat so craveable.
Indigenous flavoring ingredients, as well as those borrowed from neighboring countries and cuisines are part of the vast taste palette that infuses chaat. While chaat is flavored with dry spice mixtures, many are also accompanied by local condiments, which are sprinkled, drizzled or poured over the snacks.
According to Wixon, key Indian street food flavors and condiments include:
- Black Salt: a pinkish/gray rock salt with a tangy, sulfur-like taste
- Cardamom: green cardamom is herbal and citrusy sweet; black cardamom has a stronger, nutty flavor
- Chilies: several types of chilies native to the area add a spicy kick to masalas
- Chutneys: made from a combination of fruit, herbs and vegetables into a jam-like consistency
- Cilantro: fresh cilantro or coriander (cilantro seeds) provide a bright, earthy taste
- Mango: a stone fruit with a creamy, floral, sweet taste
- Masalas: complex spice blends to season or top chaat
- Mint: leafy herb with refreshing flavor and spiced notes
- Nutmeg: ground seeds with a warm, nutty and sweet taste
- Raita: yogurt-based sauce, added as a cooling counterpart to elevated heat levels common in street foods
- Tamarind: tree fruit that elicits a sweet and sour, sometimes tart flavor
- Turmeric: dried root known for its bright yellow color and musky, bitter taste