Mountain Chaat

about NH22, Himachal Pradesh
Himachal Pradesh offers stunning views, pretty much from the instant you cross the border at Parwanoo and start your twisty way up into the Shivaliks. Every twist and turn brings new vistas and the temptation to stop and stare, but man does not live by scenery alone.

Food, as in much of India, was pretty much everywhere.  HPMC juice stalls and dhabas littered the place, but the odd Chinese or burger joint, or even a bakery sometimes poked its head in. We stopped at a few miles from Parwanoo, picked at random by our driver who wanted a tea. The tea - standard stuff - came with something called fan, which turned out to be a khakra thinking itself a footlong.

We stopped at a roadside strip with four stalls. Two juice stores were sandwiched by two dhabas tin a mirror-image arrangement, hanging precariously off the edge of the road. The dhabas boht had the same menu; the HPMC stalls sold juices, wines and pickles of the same kinds. I never cracked the mystery of the mirroring, but we gave some business to all the stalls. Apple and litchi juices were duly consumed, but there were also some very unusual pickles on offer - garlic with some strange root, bamboo, and the most interesting - fern pickle. Yes we did buy it, but it is yet to be tasted. Our interested was heightened by our driver, who was particularly keen on fern and bamboo; he bought a packet each too.

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This story is progressing slowly, not unlike the car ride. Don't worry, we've barely moved. Across the street from us was this promising young man selling chana kulcha out of an eye-catching copper vessel on a bicycle; it was basically chana chaat with a round bread that he called kulcha. I suspect the shiny, large, oddly shaped vessel is used to catch the eye more than anything else, because our local Mishraji dishes out similar stuff with no more than some newspaper to help him.

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The chaat - boiled chana mixed with various things including shredded raw cabbage and topped with a spicy chutney - was quite good, though I couldn't quite figure out what to do with the bread. Noticing that he also had bananas, we asked him what that was used for. He calls it fruit chaat, though the only fruit in banana-aloo-cucumber-tomato chaat was the banana (ok, technically tomato is also a fruit). Apparently papaya should also go in, but he didn't have any that day. Very good, the stuff was.

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The cycle the guy came in was quite worth a study by itself. The middle of the cycle was dominated by that huge copper pot, but there was, on the side, a small gas stove that he used to warm the kulchas and even heat up some of the chaat stuff. In the front, ahead of the handles, was storage – serving plates, tools, vegetables like cabbage that wasn’t put out on the display – all in all quite an integrated vending vehicle.

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That, then, was the first Himachal meal.

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