Showing posts with label chat. Show all posts
Showing posts with label chat. Show all posts

May 27, 2016

Meet The Local Lady Chatwala!

This enterprising young lady is our local lady chatwala. "Chat" or "Chaat" means snack and "wala" is any sort of worker. As you can see she is also a mobile snack provider with her little kitchen and inventory bungeed onto her bicycle. A stone behind the rear tire, kickstand in place, and logistically placed umbrella and she is ready for business. That's right, in Nepal we have "drive to" fast food rather than "drive thru."

Here's our intrepid ingenue in action. She mixes various chutneys, sauces, broken ramen noodles, and sprinkles with a packet of ready made chicken flavored bhujiya in that blue bucket. She's making a sort of bhelpuri-like chat. (You can see the packets of chicken bhujiya in the lower left hand corner of the photo.) Each chatwala has their own special secret blend of ingredients. She's also got her cell phone at the ready there too, might be expecting some urgent snack requests perhaps?

And here it is! In India a chat or snack of this sort would be served in a newspaper cone, here in Nepal the open packet of readymade bhujiya is strategically cut to make a nifty serving container. Nothing much goes to waste around here. Every rupee counts!

Most of the time in India you are given a rather wonky plastic spoon to eat your snack with. Here in Nepal you get a cardboard square cut from the box that held the chicken bhujiya packets. Recycle, repurpose, reuse, eh?

A close-up so you can see all the textures and colors going on in that chat. Bhujiya or bhujia was originally a Rajasthani specialty. It is crispy fried noodles made from a dough of chickpea flour, dals, and spices pushed through a sieve. Now it is a popular snack all over South Asia with many different varieties available. (Even Pepsico Frito-Lay makes a few varieties of bhujiya in India.)

Here's our chatwala having a well deserved rest. Around four everyday the neighborhood small business ladies gather in that set of blue plastic chairs on this crossroads on the edge of town to have tea and chat (as in talk and snack.) Honestly, I've never seen a lady chatwala anywhere else in India or Nepal. When she first started coming to our area years ago she sold snacks from a tiny pushcart with little wheels that would barely roll on the rough roads here. Now she's got a bike with handbrakes!

Calmly currying on,

May 16, 2016

Ingredient of the Week: Ajwain, Ajowan, Carom, Omam, Bishop's Weed

Ajwain looks like fuzzy caraway seeds but tastes nothing like caraway.

Ajwain is a member of the parsley family and is often confused with many other spices like caraway, lovage seeds, and celery seeds. Adding to the confusion ajwain goes by many different names: ajowan, carom, bishop's weed, omam, omum, Königskümmel, Indischer Kümmel, Egyptian caraway, and al-kumun al-muluki. The spice's name can be traced to the Sanskrit word "yavani" meaning "Greek." This suggests that the spice originated in the Eastern Mediterranean and arrived in India in during the ancient Greek conquest of Central Asia. It isn't really known why the Arabs call ajwain as al-kumun al-muluki or the "king's cumin," but the German name Königskümmel or "king's caraway" probably derives from it.

The flowers of the ajwain plant
To add even further to taxonomic confusion the ajwain plant has several different botanical names too: Carum copticumCarum ajowan, Ptychotis ajowanAmmi copticum, and Trachyspermum ammi. Ajwain is an annual herbaceous plant about 1 to 2 feet in height and is mainly cultivated in Rajasthan. What is referred to as the spice or seeds are actually the tiny fruits of the plant. Both the seeds or fruits as well as the leaves are eaten in India. Analysis of ajwain seeds or fruits commonly eaten as a spice in India reveals a thymol content of almost 98%. Thymol is the same compound that flavors the herb thyme as well as original Listerine mouthwash.

The flavor of ajwain seeds has been described variously as having notes of thyme, anise, cumin, and oregano. I get an initial blast of almost mentholated thyme as in original flavor Listerine mouthwash out of ajwain seeds. A bit of an earthy cumin note follows this mouth numbing blast adding to it's complexity. The flavor is similar to but definitely less subtle than thyme,  none of the subtle floral nuances of thyme are present in ajwain. The thyme note is so strong it borders on the camphoraceous or eucalyptic. Ajwain is certainly what I'd call an accent spice.

Ajwain is used in a variety of dishes in South Asia.  It often flavors pickles, dals, beans, tops flatbreads or savory pastries, and adds complexity to bland or starchy vegetable curries. Because of ajwain's pungent flavor it is definitely a spice that must be dry roasted or fried to mellow it's harshness before use in a dish. Never grind ajwain either, just bruise it lightly in a mortar and pestle or it's strong flavor may overtake a dish. 

Bhelpuri, a snack sold on the street in South Asia typically served in a newspaper cone with a spoon for eating on the go.
(There are no drive thru windows in South Asia YET.)
The one exception to not grinding ajwain would be chat masala. "Chat" or "chaat" is usually a snack often sold by street vendors that this spice blend or "masala" is often used upon. Above is a picture of "bhelpuri" a chat which is usually a mixture of chopped tomatoes, broken papdis, cilantro, potatoes, peanuts, peas, bean sprouts, raw onion, puffed rice, chutneys, and sev. (Sev is the squiggly yellow noodles made of chickpeas on top.) A hefty dollop of chat masala is in there too!

My particular favorite is Catch's Magic Masala.  It boasts a sweet, sour, salty, and umami mix with not only ground ajwain but asafoetida, mint, kala namak/black salt, amchur, long pepper, and a variety of other piquant ingredients. Want to pep up potatoes, rev up a raita, fire up a fruit salad, jazz up some juice, tart up some tofu, or exuberantly enhance eggs? Sprinkle a little of Catch's Chat Masala on them and you're in for a taste sensation!

A cheerfully embellished chat wagon specializing in bhelpuri .
This chatwalla is not taking any chances, he has Ganesh & Laxmi painted on his sign!

Calmly currying on,
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