As a child, Maneet Chauhan looked forward to visiting her grandparents because it meant long train journeys and a chance to sample the smorgasbord of Indian food along the way. These visits were also part of the inspiration for her book, “Chaat: Recipes from the Kitchens, Markets, and Railways of India," which travels those very same foodways.
Chauhan recently spoke with Christopher Kimball on Milk Street Radio about the overindulgent nature of chaat and Indian desserts. Enjoy a small slice of their chat from the excerpts below, and listen to the full interview on our website or via Apple Podcasts.
On train rides to visit family
Winter break used to be going to Punjab, which is northern India. And that's where my paternal grandparents were. And summer holidays would be going to southern India, where my maternal grandparents were. It was incredible. The trains were and are unlike the trains over here [in the U.S.]. The windows would be open, the doors would be open. The train would stop at each and every small train stop. And the local vendors from that city or that town would just climb the train to sell what was popular in that destination. I would just look forward to all these train stations because I had mapped my entire two to three-day journey based on what I was going to eat.
On the range of chaat
Chaat is this lickable concoction of different textures and flavors. There is sweet, there is spicy, there is tangy, there is crunchy and just a perfect bite of all of these together is what makes a perfect chaat. You can go to any corner in India and there will be a chaat. Like for example, in Delhi, in winter, you get a sweet potato and a starfruit chaat and today, people keep coming up with new chaats.
On carrot pudding, or gajar ka halwa
Usually we could only get it during the winters because winters was the time that carrot was harvested. And the winter carrots in India are red in color. And you would have hot gajar halwa, which has been cooked in a lot of ghee and it has the most decadent and luxurious taste to it especially when it's warm. And then what we would do is we would try to find an ice cream vendor because we would take that hot gajar halwa and put cold vanilla ice cream on it. And that combination was absolutely deadly.
On her mother’s jugaad, or hack
Jugaad means that you very creatively come up with solutions for a problem that is presented in front of you. I have seen people without a tandoor who would make a naan on the back of a griddle and turn it over a fire. My mom would...put three naans on the wall inside the wall of a pressure cooker and then turn it over a gas stove.
Quotes have been edited for clarity.