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EATING LOCAL: THE ALLURE OF BATAN PAPDI CHAAT

Seasoned Chef and Sindhi food specialist  waxes eloquence on one of the finest instances of the Sindhi culinary diaspora 


As told to Madhulika Dash; Picture and Recipe hacks courtesy

Ulhasnagar. The name itself conjures up an image of a town busy trading. You name the goods, and there is likely that this bustling town would have a wholesale market for that. Such is the business acumen of this suburban township of Maharastra that it is often called the trading station of Mumbai – in fact, till about 1990s it was where every big deal was sealed thanks to one migrating community that made this little township, its stable home: the Sindhis, 389,000 in total, making Ulhasnagar the largest Sindhi enclave back in the 70s. But it wasn’t just business acumen and class that the royal warrior & book-keeper got to this town otherwise known for the gangs and political groups, the business community also infused this sleepy township with the tempering for their very innovative cuisine that had thanks to the constantly on the move community had earned quite a reputation of being ‘gourmet on wheels’.

Concurs Chef Pradeep Tejwani (Founder, Youngturks), “call it blessing in disguise or the inherent zeal to adopting and flourishing, but Sindhis as a community are adept at being the water in the bowl. We adapt to new foods, cultures, lifestyle and even times – all while keeping that unmatched Sindhian-ism intact. And no where this attitude is shown with that much chutzpah and flair as in our food – which has been on this running wheel of innovation and adaptation.

And one such dish is, says Chef Tejwani, “the all-time favourite Batan Papdi Chaat, which is our very own take on the famous North Indian Chaat, which is a celebration not only of Indians’ unquenchable inclination to ‘pucker-inducing’ dishes but also to the Indian chaatwallas confidence at vigorous seasoning based on our age-old refined understanding of flavour harvesting techniques, ingredients and spices.

Most of the chaats – which find mention in the 12 th century Abhilashitartha Chintamani – in fact, continues the Sindhi food expert, “are testimony to our culinary mastery and agrarian foundation that has given us the edge to understand a produce – unfamiliar ones as well – and then develop dishes that elebrate the ingredient play while harvesting fascinating wellness benefits. So much so that today the segment of chaats that according to lore was developed as small plates to quenched mid-meal hunger or as medium to administer medicine, has transformed into a sub culture that helps Indian culinary minds adapt to new food, unfamiliar ingredients – and even put that familiar stamp in a classic.”

Like in case of Papdi Chaat, which many believe was evolved in the imperial court of Humayun and later Shah Jahan as these little bites that allowed the hakims to administer medicine to the Emperor and eventually became popular as part of Chandni Chowk special courtesy the curator Jahanara Begum. As the court treat, it is likely that the first taste of Papdi Chaat whose highlight were the fried crisp wheat disc we call papdi, was had by the Amils, who are known for both their warrior as well as book keeping skills. And made it a part of their meal given the addictive taste. Of course, the commonplace of the chaat became another reason that Papdi Chaat was chosen to be a part of the Sindhi ‘gourmet on wheels menu, albeit with a few changes in spice level done to suit our taste.

It was that version that would have probably arrived in Mumbai (then Bombay) when a major segment of Sindhis, especially the trading community including the Bhaibands, migrated to Ulhasnagar – a sleepy country side that was waking up into a town back in the early 1900s and then the 60 and 70s. This is where the community was introduced to yet another interesting concept called the Irani pav, which came in various versions including the kadak pav. The beauty of this version of pav is the honeycomb kind of the structure that allowed it to soak in a lot of the curry and yet not turn soggy.

Chances are that it was the early kadak pav served in the Parsee owned bakeries that may have influenced the making of the batan or button as we call, continues Chef Tejwani, “which has this rusk-like appearance with a buttery aftertaste and the ability to take on a lot of gravy goodness without turning into a mush.” Given the voracious popularity of batan, it is relative hard to say who or when was it created but the intention of adding it to Papdi Chaat, explains the chef, “is to make the little plate, last.”

The trick to make the Sindhi style chaat, he says, “is to place the batan’s porous side upward and then continue to layer on with other accompaniments like boiled cubed potatoes, onions, tomatoes, sprouts followed by relishes and spices. Just before you garnish it with sev or the papdi, give the mix a toss without moving the batan, and then finish with a little relish, dahi (if you are making dahi papdi chaat) and the two papdis. This way you would still have the crunch element even if the papdi loses its texture or is over.”

In Chef Tejwani’s version of the Dahi Batan Papdi Chaat (seen in the picture), he not only replaces the boiled potatoes with a potato kofta but also seasons’ all the relishes including the curd to give that puckering pleasure from start to finish. “It is the best way to a soulful, mazedar treat,” ends the Sindhi food aficionado, who finds the Parsee Salli to be an excellent option instead of sev if you prefer the crunch – but button, he says, “is irreplaceable.”

CHEF PRADEEP TEJWANI’S RELISHES

For Aloo Kofta:

• Boiled and mashed potatoes

• Chopped chillies

• chopped coriander

• chopped mint

• corn flour

• breadcrumbs

• salt

For the Yoghurt:

• Curd

• sugar

• salt

• jeera powder

• black salt

• Milk

For Tamarind Date Chutney:

• Tamarind

• Seedless dates

• Saunf

• red chilli powder

• Hing

• Jaggery

• Ginger powder

• Water as required

• Black salt

• Salt

For Coriander Mint Chutney:

• Mint

• Coriander

• Green chillies

• Cumin

• Ginger

• Sugar

• Salt

• Lime juice