Chicken chaat is more than a ‘snack’

By Amber Williams

Chaat. It’s as fun and easy to say as it is to eat. And isn’t that the expectation of a qualifying appetizer? Fun and easy. One common Indian version of chaat, which means “snack,” is served with chicken and marinated in a spicy mint. Surprisingly, though, neither mint nor chicken is the dominating initial flavor. It’s tomato.

If you fork around in the bowl, the presence of tomato is evident — hence the pinkish color of the dish overall — as are cucumber and bite-sized chicken cubes drenched in cultured yogurt and topped with parsley. But the tomato takes an extraordinary center stage, so much in fact, that it’s reminiscent of salsa, which triggers a somewhat embarrassing impulse to toss the fork to the side and search for a bowl of corn chips.

Chicken Chaat is served at India Star Restaurant.

Chicken Chaat is served at India Star Restaurant.

Remember, however, that chaat is a “snack,” so we must resist the gluttonous American urge to shovel it in. In fact, eating it like a bird proves more effective in the way of satisfaction and taste. By the spoonful, each bite offers a contrast of temperatures as much as it does of textures. It’s cool on the tongue, tricking the mind into allowing more in, but as it slides down the throat it begins to heat up — the kind of zip that can only be tamed by another bite, and another — as if caused by the friction of chewing.

A mouth full of chicken chaat also entertains the senses with its medley of opposing textures. The chicken, which is softened by the infusion of flavorful sauce deep in the grains of the meat, is fortunately countered by the cucumber’s crunch, saving the dish from dullness.

That’s by the spoonful. Try eating it with a fork, and a new ken comes to light. Stabbing individual pieces of chicken, cucumber or tomato affords one the luxury of appreciating the profound flavors of each; combining two and sometimes all three into one bite offers separate but equally pleasing revelations. It’s so involving, in fact, the chicken chaat serves another useful function — the art of distraction while awaiting the main course. RELISH

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