The best chaat, a savory snack popular on the subcontinent, mixes a melange of tastes, from pungent to spicy to sweet to crunchy to chewy. It usually begins with some kind of crisp. Potatoes, onions, and chickpeas are then mixed in, and then the whole thing is tossed with sauces, usually yogurt and tamarind or chutney. The result might be messy, but it sure is delicious. By Jessica Allen.
Rajbhog, in Jackson Heights, offers cheap eats, including chaats, sweeties, samosas, and sandwiches. We love love love the papri chaat, a spicy, sloppy mass of tastes and textures: potatoes, chickpeas, raw onions, tamarind, papri (crispy wafers of fried dough), and masala. Also terrific are the desserts, especially the coconut-covered gulab jamun and milky cham chams. The tiny storefront isn’t much to write home about, but that’s OK: you’ll want to fill your letters with descriptions of the chaat.
The most recently opened restaurant on this list, Savoury is run by the father-son team behind dearly departed Surya. Savoury specializes in healthier Indian fare, from a space dominated by leather and earth tones on the Upper West Side. Its Delhi papri chaat (pictured) blends papri (crispy wafers of fried dough) with yogurt, potatoes, onion, mint, and tamarind, while aloo tikki chaat relies on spicy potato cakes along with healthy doses of mint, tamarind, and yogurt. Get a sweet or salted lassi (yogurt drink) too.
Nestled in a Manhattan neighborhood known for its Indian food, Spice Symphony stands out for its unique menu, which fuses Indian and Chinese flavors and preparations. The spinach chaat, however, is all Indian. Chunky bits of spinach tempura get covered in a glaze made from yogurt and tamarind. It’s crunchy and tangy and sweet and spicy, everything all in one bite. Another must-order starter here is the fiery malai paneer ke tikke, homemade cheese in a piquant cream sauce.
Serving so-called Indian cart food, Thelewala makes a mean chaat. Several mean chaats, in fact, including the jaal moori (pictured), which combines peanuts, potatoes, puffed rice, lime, red onions, and olive oil, and the bhel poori, which swaps the lime and olive oil for chickpeas and two types of chutney. Equally yummy is the peanut masala, roasted peanuts with lime, green chiles, coriander, cumin, and onions. The West Village space is no bigger than a broom closet, so get your goodies to go and eat them in nearby Washington Square Park.
Thalis, or several small dishes served on a single tray, are our mainstay at Tiffin Wallah, but we often valiantly try to make room for a chaat appetizer too. We’re especially fond of the chana chaat, which covers chickpeas in a sharp, almost fruity sauce made with cilantro and tamarind, and the samosa chaat, which features chopped up samosas (triangular pastries stuffed with potatoes and peas and fried), along with the signature sauce. Oh, and then there’s the alu chaat, which includes potatoes.