A new cookbook highlights the subject, and ABC 7's Hungry Hound went in search of some local versions, while also discovering they can easily be made at home.
Assembling chaat isn't as hard as it would seem. It does require sourcing things like sev, which is the crispy, crunchy noodles made from chickpea flour paste, seasoned with turmeric and cayenne. Puri, a hollowed-out thin-and-crispy dough ball, typically stuffed with potatoes, chickpeas and spicy water, is another. All are in use at Chiya Chai, a Logan Square Indian-Nepalese snack shop where chai - the Indian tea - is the focus.
"It's like a match made in heaven. It's just like, where there is chai there is chaat. It is a very basic Indian street food," said Swadesh Shrestha, owner of Chiya Chai.
Potato-and-pea-filled samosas are smashed, then showered with chickpeas, fresh cilantro and diced red onions, plus the chaat trifecta of cilantro chutney, tamarind chutney and creamy yogurt.
"It kind of reminds you of a place when you eat it," he said.
For Chef Maneet Chauhan, that place would be India's bustling train stations. Her new book "Chaat" hunts down the best versions from every region of India, and follows her Nashville restaurant, Chaatable, in its commitment to her recreating taste memories from a personal journey she took to write the book.
"These trains are unlike the trains over here. The windows are open, the doors would be open, and these would be three-day, three-night journeys," said Chauhan. "When the trains would stop, the local vendors would come to sell whatever dishes they were making, and I got to taste the varied cuisine of India through the train," she said.
"Chaat translated from Hindi means 'to lick,' so the dishes are so lickable, that you can't stop eating it," she added.
For home cooks, you'll find anything you'd need to make chaat at Patel Brothers, which has five stores in Chicagoland. At their Schaumburg location, for example, Chauhan said you'll find the basics to make dozens of chaats.
"Generally it is tamarind chutney, the green chutney, which is the cilantro chutney and maybe some yogurt sauce on top of it. And then there's chaat masala, which is a blend of spices, predominantly dried, raw mango powder so it has that tart flavor to it," she said.
Just up the road in Hoffman Estates, Annapurna Simply Vegetarian has been open for just over a year. But the original, on Devon Ave. in West Rogers Park, recently underwent a renovation after 30 years in business. The menu at both locations has plenty of chaat, some packaged, to help you make your own, and others made to-order.
"It's the perfect complementary food just before you have your main meal; something a little light," said Deven Arya, whose family owns the two restaurants.
The samosa chaat is a classic.
"You have the samosa and the chickpea gravy - the chana masala - you've got yogurt, you've got cilantro chutney, you've got tamarind chutney," he said.
Another unique one is the Khasta Kachori, which is a gargantuan puri, stuffed with crispy rice, boiled potatoes and the chaat trifecta of chutneys and yogurt, plus fresh cilantro.
"All these different things, all blended together, gives this robust flavor. There's different textures, different flavors you get with each bite," said Arya.
Eating all of this chaat reminds you of what there is to love about South and Southeast Asian food. The riot of textures and flavors combining bitter, sweet, sour, and salty all in one dish. On top of it, it's also great for vegetarians.
Another great option for chaat on Devon Avenue is Sukhadia's Sweets and Snacks.
Locations in Schaumburg, Niles, Naperville, Chicago, Hanover Park
Annapurna Simply Vegetarian
721 W. Gold Rd., Hoffman Estates
2600 W. Devon Ave.
2770 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Sukhadia's Sweets and Snacks
2559 W. Devon Ave.