The Interesting Origin of India’s favourite Street Food – The Chaat
The Interesting Origin of India’s favourite Street Food – The Chaat | Credit: Archanas Kitchen

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The Interesting Origin of India’s favourite Street Food – The Chaat

Jun 12, 2018

Indian cuisine is extremely diverse and has many sub-divisions. Each state has its own evolved cuisine. Added to this, every caste, community, religion and region in a state has specialities that are inimitable. Even though we have such a rich collection of cuisines in our country, not one of it can be termed boring or repetitive. Each type of food is mouth-watering in its own way.

However, if there is one type of food that is devoured by people in all the diverse states of India, then that is definitely chaat.

Chaat is the collective name given to a type of street food that is commonly found across India. This includes bhel puri, pani puri, sev puri, aloo tikki chaat, samosa chaat, etc. 

Credit: Poonforkandfood
Credit: Poonforkandfood

What makes this kind of food unique is the chaat masala that is an amalgamation of powdered spices such as amchur powder, rock salt, cumin, black pepper, coriander, dried ginger, etc.

Also, another characteristic ingredient of chaat is the chutney. The mint chutney and the tamarind chutney are used in most of the preparations. The mint chutney is on the spicier side while the tamarind chutney has a sweeter tone.

Even though the preparations vary slightly across the states, the soul of chaat remains the same. It is mostly enjoyed from the streets and made on the spot in front of the customers. The flavours are lip-smacking, the food is light on the stomach and merely looking at chaat is sure to make you salivate.

Credit: Trip Advisor
Credit: Trip Advisor

So, how did this type of food originate? Let us see.

There are many theories that say that chaat originated in Bengal. Some say that it all started in Gujarat which is famous for its savoury snacks. Others say that the samosa and the fried tikkis originated in Uttar Pradesh while the bhel puri and sev puri originated in Mumbai.

It does look like the exact origin of chaat is lost in time.

However, there is one interesting story that seems to give an answer to where the soul of chaat might have evolved from. According to this story, chaat originated in Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s kitchen.

Credit: Oh.City
Credit: Oh.City

It is believed that when the great emperor fell sick, the Shahi Hakim (a wise man) advised him to improve his immune system by consuming food loaded with a variety of spices. However, because the emperor was unwell, it had to be made sure that the food was light on the stomach as well.

This is what is supposed to have given birth to the chaat masala and the food that is prepared using the same.

This story is further substantiated from the fact that although various places in India serve tasty chaat, one of the places that are most popular is the chaat on the streets of Chandni Chowk in Delhi. The Chandni Chowk that we know today is a street that was a part of the great imperial city built by Shah Jahan in the seventeenth century as a part of the great Mughal empire.

The street has a history of restaurants and confectioner (halwais) stalls that have existed since the 1790s! Apart from chaat, the street has some irresistible Biriyani joints and sweet shops that serve delectable kulfis and jalebis, most of which definitely have an authentic taste of Mughal cuisine.

So, it does make sense that the street food that is famous in this area had something to do with the Mughal rule and with Shah Jahan in particular.

If this story is anything to go by, then it sure looks like the great Shah Jahan gave us something that is as valuable as the Taj Mahal. Or, as foodies would say, something even more valuable than the Taj Mahal!