Step aside HP, there’s a new brown sauce in town, and this time it’s purple. So maybe it’s not really a brown sauce at all, and we probably shouldn’t be calling it that either. Come to think of it, our Tamarind Chutney might not even be that similar except for the fact that they both contain tamarinds. Say WHAT? Yup, you heard it right: brown sauce is really just a tamarind sauce in disguise.
What’s this then?
You can think of Pico’s Varanasi Tamarind Chutney as a tribute to Indian street food culture - a nod to an age-old tradition where intense flavours and immediate satisfaction are king. It doesn’t take long in any Indian city to come across a busy crowd gathered tightly around a food vendor as if he were a magician about to perform a card trick. Taking a stroll down a khao gulley, or street food lane, is as much about taking in the spectacle and soaking up the atmosphere as it is about picking up cheeky nibbles from the stalls you pass by.
Our beloved sauce is named after the famous city not for its finesse in the sauce department, but because of the immense amount of respect we have for this spiritual city that holds the biggest gathering of human beings on earth during the Kumbh Mela festival. Once every 12 years as much as 240 million people come together along the banks of the River Ganges to take a ritual dip in the holy waters and get cleansed. An event of this magnitude is a mind-blowing feat of crowd control, civil cooperation and mass consumption of food on an unimaginable scale. It takes a whopping half a million staff members to orchestrate this monster event that brings spiritual devotees and elated revellers together from across the country as they take in the waters and engage with the fabric of humanity over the course of just a few days. For us, there is no place on this planet that represents food consumption at scale as much as the city of Varanasi.
It’s time we had a chaat.
At the heart of India’s street food culture is the much-loved chaat, an explosion of opposites that is designed deliberately to confuse and dazzle the senses with contradictory experiences all at the same time. Unlike the sober coherence of a French appetiser, Indian chaat lands you with sweet and sour, spicy and cooling, crunchy and mushy, hot and cold all in the same bite. Eating a bowl of chaat couldn’t be a more Indian experience: you are immersed in confusion and chaos, and saturated in stimulus at such dizzying levels that you find yourself thrust in all directions and landed peacefully into a place of complete calm and satisfaction that you can’t really explain. A bit of an exaggeration? It’s hard to know unless you try chaat out for yourself and see what we’re talking about.
There’s no set recipe for chaat as it changes from region to region, stall to stall. But if you want to take a run at it, try this cheat chaat recipe at home: