I remembered the first time I encountered North Indian chaats (street snacks) was in 1991 when I visited New Delhi as a young cadet officer with Singapore Airlines at the time. It was a revelation. Brought up on a diet of South Indian dosas and parathas, or else pseudo-Moghul tandooris prevalent in Singapore at the time, I'd never set eyes on chaats before. The wondrous array of chaats available in Chandni Chowk was mind-blowing- at the time, the Old Delhi quarter was the epicentre of the Indian capital's culinary world, unlike today, where restaurateurs gravitate towards wealthy newly-built Delhi satellite suburbs like Noida and Gurgaon. My fave snacks then were the bhel puri (which was of Bombay/Marathi origin) and the ever-popular pani puri (known by different names in various parts of the Indian sub-continent - Gol Gappa, Fuchka, etc.), all sharing those traits which chaats are known for: a combination of strong, assertive flavours (sweet, sour, spicy) and textures (crispy/solid, soft/yielding, liquid)
Then, I used to yearn for those snacks when I'm back in Singapore. We can't find them for love or money in those years as Singapore's Indian dining scene has historically been dominated by the Tamils, with a sprinkling of Punjabi-owned tandoori spots (think of now-defunct places like Omar Khayyam, or Ujagar Singh's at St Gregory's Place), or else homegrown curry fish-head spots like Apolo (sic) Banana Leaf, Samy's or Muthu's on Race Course Road.
Then, in 2003, Raj of Kolkata opened - bringing with it the much-lauded Raj Kachori: a huge dome of pastry so crisp, it shatters at a mere touch, filled with chopped potatoes, beans, onions, coriander, tamarind, yoghurt, mango powder, and topped with crisp sev noodles - bursting with a myriad of flavours and textures. I thought it was Nirvana on a plate.
I was back at Raj of Kolkata yesterday. What we had:
- Raj Kachori, of course - still as good as I remembered.
- Dahi Golgappa - yoghurt-filled crisp, globe-shaped hollow pastries
- Papri Chaat - an Indian version of Mexican nachos, where crisp, deep-fried wheat chips were topped with beans, chopped onions, coriander, lentils/beans, then slathered with sweet yoghurt and spiked with a splash of tamarind. The Papri Chaat was the weakest of the three.
Raj of Kolkata
76 Syed Alwi Road
Tel: +65 62971716