History of Chaat
How much of India’s history do you know? That’s right, history !! Ok, culinary history? Maybe there aren’t those many history lovers and so possibly wouldn’t know that, ‘chaat’ that is the ‘weakness of millions of Indian women and men’ has roots in our ancient Vedic texts and similar other records. There is also some connection with a Mughal Emperor too.
Going by the culinary records traced and written about by food historian, K T Achaya, in his book, A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food, he mentions Manasollasa, a 12th century Sanskrit text written by King Someshvara III. The text mentions soaking vadas in milk, curd or even rice water. Interestingly, curd is also mentioned in Tamil literature. Curd was spiced with cinnamon, ginger and pepper. Probably, this may be the first instance of adding curd to the vada and thus, flavouring it was indeed an ancient habit. Dahi vada or kshirvata as it was called during those times is thus probably the oldest chaat.
Manasollasa also mentions lentil dumplings soaked in fermented rice water or kanjika that are now known as kanji-bade in Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.
He also traces the origin of papri (fried unleavened breads) to the aforementioned text as ‘purika’.
Besides the culinary records, the ancient medical systems of Unani and Ayurveda also approve the use of spices. An interesting anecdote brings in Emperor Shahjahan. In the 16th century, when the Emperor and his army settled on the banks of the Yamuna, its water was not potable. This resulted in an outbreak of cholera. The Shahi physician counseled the Emperor to take foods that are an assortment of flavours, such as tangy, sweet, mint and of course, chillies to kill the bacteria. He suggested mixing the water with spices, tamarind and pastes of herbs.
Another interesting version is that, while the non-vegetarians were relatively safe owing to the non-veg fare that had plenty of spices, the vegetarians were at a higher risk. Hence, to make the water potable for vegetarians, it was recommended that they start consuming foods that were heavy on a variety of spices.
While some of these records are fairly recent, the history of chaat goes back to the epic era of Mahabharat and Buddhism and still back, to the Vedas and Ayurveda.
Like the rock salt or sendha namak that is used in chaat. The Mahabharat has references to the use of sendha namak and black salt. Seasoning fried potato cubes with a variety of salts combined together also have ancient origins.
In his book, he also mentions Sadava from the Buddhist era who refers to either a spiced fruit dish or a drink. Cloves, cumin and ginger also find a mention in the writings during the Buddhist era. In the Aryan era, one can find a mention of maricha (black pepper) and heeng (asafoetida). Flavouring water with tamarind and fruits was prevalent even back then.
Charaka, one of the principal contributors to the development of Ayurveda and the editor of Charak Samhita, a treatise on ancient medical wisdom also mentions the same.
All in all, the Dahi Vadas that are Dahi Bhallas in Northern India, Pani Puri that is Puchka in Kolkata/Northeast and Gol Gappa in the North were already curated hundreds of years ago.
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