The Indian Street Food Bringing Theatre to Your Plate

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From the BBC series ‘India on a Plate’, introducing chole bathure that originated in the Punjab. Justin Rowlatt reports on July 2, 2016.

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Chole bhature is street food as street theatre.

Chole is a spicy chickpea curry and comes accompanied with a very special kind of fried bread called bhature, and that’s where the spectacle comes in.

The dish originated in the proud north Indian state of Punjab, but is now so popular across India that any number of interlopers try and claim it as their own – including Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh.

Don’t believe them.

Chole bhature is Punjabi through and through: as stout and hearty as the famed warriors the state has produced throughout history. You’ll never forget the first time you see it being made.

The chefs – because proper preparation takes real skill – slap and pound a ball of leavened dough before rolling it into a thin disk or oval shape.

Then they toss it into a great smoking pan of hot oil. And here’s where the magic happens. The bread sizzles and froths angrily for a moment before the bubbles of air trapped within begin to expand.

Then, before your eyes, the bhature inflates like a balloon. The chef will turn it in the hot oil to ensure the surface is evenly crisp and golden. Then he (Indian street food is almost exclusively prepared by men) will pop a couple on a plate with a generous scoop of the spicy chickpea stew. I guarantee you’ll burn your fingers in your desperation to tear open the hot bread and scoop up a generous mouthful of curry.

And if chole bhature scores high on spectacle, it also rates very highly for what food scientists call, rather clinically, “mouthfeel”.

Mouthfeel is exactly what it sounds like: the way the food feels in your mouth.

Giant food businesses like McDonalds, Nestle and Kraft spend hundreds of millions of dollars making sure the physical and chemical properties of their new food products interact in your mouth to create the most satisfying sensations as you gobble them up.

But the ancient chefs of Punjab did it by instinct: the combination of crisp fatty bread with soft spicy curry makes for a heavenly combination.

By tradition this is a breakfast food – and would last most of us all the way through to supper – but the truth is food this good can be eaten at anytime so you’ll see chole bhature chefs working their magic all day long.

If there is an Indian street food you think Justin needs to taste contact him @BBCJustinR

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