Chetna Makan explores the diversity of Indian street food in her book Chai, Chaat & Chutney: A Street Food Journey Through India. She visits four cities in India (Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, and Kolkata), representative of the four corners of the country, and captures via vibrant photography, the popularity and the elaborate culture of street food in India. The book describes regional specialities from the four urban areas that you can try replicating in your kitchen. Makan also shares recipes of common chutneys and garam masalas (literally, hot spices), essential components of all Indian food. If you reminisce about dosas from Chennai, vada pav and misal and pav bhaji from Mumbai and Delhi’s gol gappas, this book is for you.
India has an enormous diversity of food choices and cooking styles on offer and while no single cookbook could do justice to the entirety, this book really appealed to me because Makan uses clear and concise recipes to makes street food accessible, and (dare I say) easily replicable, even for a desultory cook like myself. There were many old favorites that I recognized but also, foods that were quite new to me.
Notes and thoughts:
1. I came across this cookbook at my local library in the summer of 2019 and I borrowed it because the title evoked instant nostalgia (a classic example of judging a book by the title on its cover!). Chaat (a genre of savory street food) was the staple of my teenage years, and all through college. Even now, thirty years later, when I think of comfort food, I think longingly of different types of chaat eaten at roadside stalls in the teeming streets of Mumbai and washed down with a glass of hot chai or with a cold falooda, a rose-syrup based, milky dessert drink. Take, for instance, the falooda. I’d never thought of making it at home until I saw the recipe in the book and realized it was fairly straightforward. I introduced my boys to the falooda and we made it many times over last summer because suddenly, it was easy to make, as long as I kept the ingredients on hand.
2. Given the current, indefinite, coronavirus shelter in place orders, most of our meals are homemade and I just bought an e-copy of this book, so that I can share some more of my old favorites to my boys.
3. Many people buy cookbooks because they want to try the recipes but some of us also buy them because they are a permanent visual and gustatory link to a different, much-loved time of life. It’s like this book: I may never try any or all the recipes, but just browsing the pages will allow me to revisit treasured memories.
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