There’s no shortage of street snacks to grab on-the-go in Kolkata (Calcutta), India.
But there was one Kolkata street food that caught my attention from the start. It was one of the most alluring and attractive street food sculptures I had ever seen.
From a distance it looked like a giant block of cheese, bright yellow in color, and fenced around the outside with a row of ripe red tomatoes and steam pouring from the center.
I was amazed and was immediately tempted to get a sample, so I did.
It was so good and so cheap that I found it nearly impossible to walk past this vendor for the rest of my Kolkata visit without ordering – it didn’t matter if I was hungry or stuffed from a Bengali feast, I couldn’t resist.
Ghugni chaat, as it’s commonly know, is a mixture of yellow peas (tastes similar to chickpeas) that are served piping hot.
Now I won’t pretend to know exactly how a ghugni chaat street food sculpture works, but from enjoying many leaf bowl fulls and observing his cooking techniques I’ll do my best to explain.
The yellow peas are formed into a giant donut like shape. The center of the donut is filled with a thin layer of sizzling hot yellow peas which are heated by a flame of fire below. Throughout the day, as the vendor sells the hot batch, he neatly scrapes off more of the inner edges where it’s mixed with a little water, made into a curry-like snack, and then it’s ready to be served.
Beautiful red tomatoes, sliced onions, and corriandor are positioned on the outer edges of the food structure to complete the beautifully colorful street food sculpture.
When you order a serving of ghugni chaat, the vendor grabs an eco-friendly leaf bowl, and scoops in a few spoons of the simmering peas.
He then asks you if you’d like it spicy or salty or sour, and then proceeds to add the corresponding amount of chopped chillies, salt, and sour tamarind water, and lime juice to your liking.
A few slivers of fresh tomato, some chopped coriander and red onions (which are slightly dried out from resting on the edges of the sculpture) are thrown on top.
The vendor then miraculously manages to stir all the ingredients together without spilling more than a few drops, even though the leaf bowl is nearly overflowing.
The hot, semi-fragile leaf bowl of ghugni chaat must be carried from the bottom using the palm of your hand so it doesn’t collapse.
Using a little wooden ice cream spoon (except it’s about 4 times thinner and very fragile), it’s time to dig in.
A single portion of ghugni chaat costs just 10 INR ($0.19).
And the outrageously low price paired with how tasty it is, is precisely the reason why I found it impossible to resist every time I passed by while walking the streets of Kolkata.