Chaat is a type of savoury snack food that is served from street carts and stalls all over India. It originated from the region of Uttar Pradesh and has since evolved and modernized with influences from other parts of India, the Middle East, China and colonial Portugal.
The original chaat are variations of theme: a salad-like mixture of potato pieces, fried breads, crispy chickpea flour chips, samosa, and legumes which are put into a bowl and garnished with a spice shake (“chaat masala”), a form of Indian ketchup-like chutney called “saunth” (made using dried ginger and tamarind), fresh cilantro and yogurt. It is aesthetically similar to a nacho salad in its dozens of combinations. (You might find it actually called “Indian Nachos” in some menus). In India, chaat varies regionally with each city having its own particular style and flavours..
Over the years and as it spread throughout India, the concept of “chaat” evolved and diversified. You will find chaat with influences from the Portuguese, as in pav baji (soft Portuguese buns with a mashed vegetable curry from Mumbai), kathi roll (from Kolkata), and Indian-Chinese dishes such as chicken Manchurian (also from Kolkata).
The popular Apna Chaat (roughly translated from Hindi to “My Snack”), is located in a strip mall on 120th St. in Surrey. (There are a couple of other interesting restaurants to explore in this particular mall, but we’ll save that for another day). Here you will find a good introductory survey of various chaat and its newer relatives. On weekends, it is filled with families and is often lined up out the door. The tables turn quickly so the waits are usually no more than five minutes.
When you first walk in you will notice that the walls covered with posters of dishes from their menus. On the left are pictures of the more traditional Mumbai-style chaat dishes such a rotis and puris. On the right are their Indian-Chinese dishes. Tucked into the back corner is a bar that serves golgappa (also called pani puri) – hollow, thin-shelled, ping pong ball-like fried dough that you can stuff with various fillings, and a cold soup-like “spicy water” called teekha pani.
The menu is extensive. Try not to be intimidated. Even if you are with a group, it will be tough to make a significant dent. Place your order at the front, take the plastic number card and sit at a table. For a good starter order, get the papri chaat, a kathi roll, pav bhaji, and pani puri. Their addictive french fries are sprinkled with a chaat masala, a spice mix dominated by the tart flavour of powdered dried green mango. To drink, I often get the fresh lime soda. Also available are flavoured lassis (sweet or salty yogurt) and the Royal Falloda, a rose syrup milkshake of Persian origin.
Apna Chaat is just one of the many humble restaurants that are worth the drive out to Surrey. This ethno-burb, for a years an Indian enclave, has an increasingly diverse and interesting food scene. Both new and established immigrants (not only Indians) are choosing Surrey for its relatively less expensive real estate costs. (Many are likely cashing out of Vancouver’s certifiably insane real estate market). You will now find food from other parts of the globe – the Philippines, Africa, Vietnam, Central America, the Caribbean, among other regions. But Surrey’s sprawling suburban fabric means you will need to poke at its nooks and crannies – in strip malls and around the back of industrial complexes – to find all the great and interesting foods. If that is your kind of thing, watch this space!
Apna Chaat House | 604.502.8081 | 7500 120 St #112 | Surrey | Mon-Sun: 11:30am-8pm | www.apnachaat.ca