The Chaat Challenge: How to Serve Street Foods at Your Wedding
Forget the seven-star hotels in South Bombay - some of the most mouthwatering dishes that India has to offer can be found underneath a small umbrella-covered food cart on a sweltering city road. However, the messiness and spice level of India's finest fast foods can pose a challenge for those wishing to serve their favorite chaats at their wedding, or any formal dinner.
But with some handy tips and tricks in mind, it is indeed possible to satisfy your chaat cravings - and impress your guests - at any classy ceremony!
Photo courtesy of snackingdangerously.com
1. Avoid paper and plastic utensils
The main problem with eating chaat anywhere besides a dirty roadside stall, is that it's messy. Everything about chaat food calls for a large roll of paper towels and disinfectant - from the commonly unhygienic food carts run by Indian street vendors to the constant threat of runny chutneys spilling all over your fancy dress clothes. So take an easy step to minimize the risk of chaat catastrophes: avoid flimsy plates!
Even the most careful eater can find himself in an unfortunate situation if a paper plate suddenly can't handle the large mountain of awesome food piled on top of it. Opt for sturdier plates and utensils, preferably ceramic, that are sure to control any rogue chutney rivers and dahi puddles and protect everyone's finest fashions.
Photo Courtesy of eatliveburp.net
A Chinet paper plate can handle quite a lot of delicious chicken tikka with no problems!
2. Keep the Spice Simple
Chaat can be intimidating - in terms of messiness and extreme spiciness. For a more palatable experience, tell your caterer to keep the spice level of your favorite chaats to a minimum. Serve dahi (yogurt) and sweet chutneys as accompaniments to the dish, and consider offering a buffet-style chutney bar where guests can adjust the heat of the appetizer to their liking. Your taste buds will definitely thank you!
Photo courtesy of Howard Walfish, eattoblog.com.
This bhel puri served at Benares restaurant in NYC is resting on a tamarind chutney glaze - which is sure to keep things sweet!
3. Bars and buffets can be your best friend
Some foods, such as bhel puri and pani puri, cannot be served prepared because allowing any watery ingredient (such as chutney) to soak into sev or puris would make the dish soggy and unappetizing.
If you insist on serving such delicious chaat favorites at a wedding reception, consider utilizing buffet-style serving methods, or even go all out for a pani-puri bar - where guests can eat singular puris right at the countertop (instead of carrying that drippy mess around)!
Guests can also make their own chaat dishes if provide a spread of options for them - such as aloo tikki chaat, batata vada, sev puri, bhel puri, samosa chaat, and dahi vada. Just lay out the ingredients separately and let your guests create their own dishes - the possibilities are truly endless.
Photo courtesy of foodpunch.com
Keep your ingredients separate so that they stay fresh, and allow your guests to customize their dishes!
You can also take chaat further with some unorthodox ideas, I guess one could say "hipster chaat." The ultimate way to cut down on messes and spice is to serve a frozen dish. How about paan ice cream? It is a great way to serve your guests a sweet and cleansing meetha paan - without any major spillage. You can find it in specialized Indian stores across the U.S. - your nearest "Little India" enclave is a good start.
Other examples of frozen chaat foods include dahi balla ice cream, where the chutneys and dahi have been mixed and frozen right into a scoop of ice cream. Less mess, less spice, and more fun! Check out your options with more experimental caterers and fusion food artists.
A picture of dahi balla in ice cream form, served as an appetizer at Ziya Restaurant in The Oberoi Hotel, Mumbai - an amazing temperature experiment that my taste buds truly enjoyed at my birthday dinner last summer.
5. Take out the mess
I know I just said dahi is great for cutting down on the spice level, but it is also messy. Same for thin chutneys - they run easily. Consider replacing dahi or watery chutneys with the thicker Greek yogurt or a dry chutney (think: dry garlic chutney instead of green chili chutney). In some cases, you can even make the dish without the messy culprit!
Photo courtesy of vegrecipesofindia.com
Sev batata puri can be made a lot less messy by abstaining from the dahi - and it will still remain a crunchy, tasty treat!
6. Consider fusion alternatives
Today's globalizing world has given us many cross-cultural benefits - and fortunately, many of these include food. From pav bhaji pizza and flatbreads to samosas stuffed with meat, spinach, or cheese, fusion foods are a creative way to incorporate chaat into your wedding while eliminating some messy disasters.
Specialized Indian pizza shops have sprouted around the country (especially in areas where many South Asians tend to live), and many offer tasty creations such as paneer tikka pizza or kachori pizza - which bake the otherwise runny or crumbly food into a neat little flatbread. Your guests will truly be in for a twist and a treat!
Photo courtesy of MyKitchenAroma.blogspot.com
Pav bhaji pizza, baked on a thin crust - yummy and easy to eat!
7. HAVE FUN!
Where there's a will, there's a way! Within certain limitations - short of serving soggy, falling-apart pani-puris to your guests - chaat can definitely be incorporated into a wedding reception, or any formal occasion. It simply needs to be adjusted for minimal spill potential and decked up to look its finest - much like the average wedding guest at an open bar. After all, it's YOUR party and you can chaat if you want to!
What's your favorite chaat dish? Feel free to share how you would take on the chaat challenge for your formal affairs!