Vegetarian Delights of NYC: Bhel Puri From Midtown's Indus Express

A salad bar kind of chaat
A salad bar kind of chaat

Most Indian chaats are meant to be eaten as snacks--hearty ones, but snacks to be sure. Chaat can be almost anything that's adorned with aromatic chaat masala (spice mixture), but it should have a mixture of flavors and textures--cool yogurt, spicy and sweet chutneys, crunchy fried chips, raw onions, boiled potatoes, and chickpeas are often deployed in various proportions, but you can "chaat" almost anything. You could make a fruit salad chaat by zesting it up with some lime juice, chile, and chaat masala, or you can make a samosa even more substantial by dousing it in yogurt, chutneys, and chaat masala.

But even as chaat advances continue apace (now you even see chicken chaat, whereas chaats were once almost always vegetarian), Indus Express is doing something totally different--it's like a Midtown salad bar and a chaat house collided.

The result is a bhel puri with so much stuff in it that it qualifies as a meal (and for only $4.95). The usual salad-bar spread of chopped vegetables sits in front of the counterman/chaat-maker. He will grab tong-fulls of chopped bell pepper, whole green chiles (ask for spicy), and mango, and toss them with more routine chaat ingredients, like puffed rice, fried sev, onion, black chickpeas, cilantro, potato, and broken puris. Squirt go the three chutneys--tamarind, coriander, and green chile. A shower of chaat masala finishes the show.

When the pile of vegetables and fried stuff finally comes to you in a huge to-go tin, lean your head in to hear the snap-crackle-pop of the puffed rice.

48 West 48th Street 212-221-7952

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