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Channa chaat — fresh, flavourful and a crowd favourite

Channa chaat — fresh, flavourful and a crowd favourite

RAWALPINDI: A fistful of red beans and chickpeas, mixed in with yoghurt and finely chopped onions and tomatoes and topped with a tangy sauce, channa chaat is a popular snack that can be found at carts, roadside stalls and cafes across the garrison city.

The snack is a common one at college canteens as well as the airport and railway stations, particularly for those who may have skipped lunch or dinner and need something they can eat on the go.

The dish is also popular with people trying to avoid greasy food, because the ingredients are typically boiled instead of being cooked in oil.

Channa chaat is believed to be a mix of Indian and Central Asian cuisine – the red beans are typical of Central Asia, while the chickpeas, yoghurt and spices were added after the dish came to India, according to the local palate. Although some have tried to categorise the dish as a salad, others are argue that it is a meal in and of itself.

“I have eaten many dishes that include red beans and are from Central Asian states, but the taste of channa chaat is different from them. I think it is a South Asian and Arabian dish because it uses red beans and chickpeas with mutton or beef,” said Sarmad Malik, a Chaklala Scheme III resident.

He said channa chaat is a good dish for healthy eaters because it does not increase cholesterol levels.

Rashid Hussain, who is from a famous channa chaat outlet in Saddar, said: “The recipe we use belongs to our family, which came here from Amritsar after partition. We have been running this shop for the last 50 years.”

He said the dish is popular because it requires fresh ingredients. “We cannot preserve the chaat for two or three days because it would spoil if it was kept in the refrigerator,” he said.

He added that channa chaat is not just a popular Ramazan snack, and their restaurant is actually busy from morning to late at night. “In Ramazan we start working in the evening until Sehri, because people like light food,” he said.

Saddar resident Mohammad Shahid said the dish is popular because it is flavourful but also easy on the stomach, and is a good alternative to fast food like samosas and burgers.

Zafar Mehmood, a shopkeeper in Raja Bazaar, says he usually eats channa chaat instead of a lunch meal. “I never have lunch for the market, but chickpeas and red beans are the best alternative to the meal,” he said.

Mr Mehmood said he was hooked to the freshness of the ingredients, since most channa chaat vendors use fresh ingredients. He added that chickpeas and red beans are good for diabetics.

Channa chaat can also be made at home, Purana Qila resident Sultan Ahmed said, although he conceded that the recipes available in the market are better and varied, which is why people often opt for those instead. He added: “A few shops in Bhabra Bazaar and Saddar have a unique recipe, which cannot be found anywhere else at such reasonable rates.”

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2017

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