Ignore the chef’s warning
Chaat of India
Chaat of India7431 W Stockton Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95823
Chaat is, essentially, a word used to describe savory snacks in Indian food. It typically consists of various fried breads with potatoes and is served with any number of salty or tangy spices, yogurts or chutneys. A street food originating in Northern India, the treat was quickly adopted throughout India and its surrounding countries and through cultural syncretism developed numerous forms. These days, you’ll find chaats with the likes of Spanish, Chinese and Greek influences (among others)—a near guarantee that anyone can find one to satisfy his or her tastes.
Chaat of India opened earlier this year. Thanks to a smart lunch buffet and a thoughtful menu that features both classic Indian dishes that Americans have become accustomed to as well as numerous and likely unfamiliar chaats, the restaurant has quickly become a favorite among fans of Indian cuisine.
After busting out my passport and convincing some Midtown grid-stationary friends to make the drive to far south Sac, we found ourselves table reading the words of praise scrawled across Chaat’s chalkboard walls. Then the chef appeared and warned us that, “the medium spicy is equivalent to American spicy.” He advised us to ask for mild if we had any reservations. We eschewed his warning out of equal parts pride and stupidity.
First came a bevy of chaats. This kicked off with a spicy corn chaat ($5.99), which was the initial indicator that when the kitchen says it does things spicy it does not fuck around. The corn chaat is essentially a salad, wherein the sweetness of the corn entices one to be bold and shovel it in. It will come as something of a surprise when each kernel, in actuality, turns out to be a glowing ember tumbling down the throat. Sweet, painful and delicious.
The papri chaat ($5.99) was reminiscent of a Greek pita salad—but instead of pita bread it has crispy shards of fried chickpea flour tossed with red onion, cilantro and potato smothered in yogurt. The dish makes for a cooling counterpoint to the other chili-laden dishes.
The eatery’s most surprising chaat is the jhaal muri ($5.99), a salad consisting of cirspy puffed rice tossed with tomato and onion bathed in a sweet-spicy tamarind chutney. Between flavor and textures it’s one of the most delightful cold (!) salads to eat on a chilly night.
A creamy chicken saag ($11.99) tasted verdant in flavor and, surprisingly, was the punchiest dish of the night, ablaze with chile peppers that refused to coddle.
The prawn curry ($10.99) consists of delightful chunky tomato sauce laced with chilies and ginger. Though our shrimp was terribly overcooked, the flavorful sauce awakened the senses and it was refreshing to see a curry prepared with such verve.
A lamb madras ($11.99) turned out to be my personal highlight; then again I’m a sucker for perfectly executed lamb with the meat dark and tender and the fat melting on the tongue. Add in a creamy coconut sauce with an earthy punch of turmeric and I won’t complain.
For those who may pooh-pooh their vegetables, try Chaat’s aloo matar ($8.99), a Punjabi dish of potatoes and peas cooked with a number of spices. It’s hauntingly savory, with a spice that creeps up and wrestles your mouth to the floor. For much of the table, this was the best dish of the night.
If there was any lowlight on this particular night it was the naan ($3.99), which arrived stone cold and nearly stone hard. Using it to sop sauce remedied much of the issue, but there’s something to be said for fresh, hot, chewy naan.