In India, street stalls have long been a favorite place to eat snacky chaat dishes such as sev poori—crackerlike papadis covered with soft potato, tangy onion, and sweet tamarind and spicy cilantro chutneys, then sprinkled with savory squiggles of fried garbanzo flour. This casual, unpretentious food is fun to eat, so it’s no surprise that it has caught on in restaurants across California and inspired some novel—and tasty—variations.
Of the South Bay’s many shops, Chaat Bhavan in Fremont stands a step above, whipping up perfect standards including pani poori, crispy, bite-size flour puffs that diners crack open with a spoon, then fill with potato, sprouted mung beans, black chickpeas, onion, sweet chutney, and spicy mint water.
At Berkeley’s East Bay Spice Company, bartenders shake cocktails with coconut chai syrup, among other Indian-inspired ingredients, and the kitchen produces spiced tikka masala flatbread as well as tandoori drumsticks with creamy raita.
Originating in Kolkata, the kati roll is the Indian version of a burrito, and at San Francisco’s Kasa diners order it with various stuffings including tender cauliflower and potatoes or green peppers sautéed with paneer.