Sunday, September 28, 2008

Chaat House: From Corner to Conglomerate

Food is something a normal human being cannot resist when offered. Unless he/she just ate their tummy-full and just can’t stand the sight of food, or, is a 10th century ascetic. Otherwise, the very sight of food can make anyone’s mouth water.

Different kinds of food are famous during different times. For example, sweets, though an all time favorite, would flood markets and would have the highest buyers during festival times. Another example would be fast food- The world is progressing fast and so has food. It’s become fast. But these kinds of food have their peak time. It is sometimes age based, preference based, frequency based etc. Not many people enjoy fast food once they cross a certain age limit and the same case is with sweets, but that might be sometimes due to precautions.
One kind that has stood the test of time and is still growing is the food that is authentic to India, alone. Chaat. It has got nothing, yet it has got everything. The ingredients are simple, they are easy to make and obviously, they taste great! I have witnessed that chaat shop’s sales haven’t dropped, but is constantly increasing. As for their peak time, I haven’t found one yet. People of all ages (well, after a certain age limit) tend to enjoy it, no matter how often they have it.
I visit a chat corner near my house quite regularly. I have seen the store grow from serving a single or a couple of customers to mass producing bhel puris and masal puris. Now, recently, I had gone there and I didn’t have a place to sit! Soon, the chaat annas, as you call them to be, are setting up franchises all over the city! Yet, I have seen a lot of other restaurants opening up in quite a style and then ending up closed a few weeks or months later, either due to lack of chefs resulting in bad food or due to improper management. In contrast, chaat shops don’t have any formal training in cooking. All they do is add, mix, shake and then serve. The magic formula! Simple but effective. No classy decorations or waiters. The best ambience you can get (if you’re looking for one) is by staying in your car and enjoying a plate of your favorite chaat item (people do that, believe me).

One can assess the decline in a restaurant by observing the ambiance, if the restaurant did open with style. The passage of time leaves a stain on the walls. The edges of the furniture are chipped, the cushion covers are torn etc. You can predict the place to shut down soon, however cheap the food rates come down to. But these chat corners, well, don’t have an ambiance, to be frank! You can see a gutter that sometimes is full, sometimes dry (depends on the season) running nearby, not enough chairs to sit, the already provided chairs are half worn down and you can, at anytime, expect a bird spit to fall on your plate(which did happen to me once)! Still, I don’t see these people suffering any serious hit in business! Now Chaat stalls have become one of kind of places where money just flows in. It has become like a well established business.

Well, the question is, what really makes these stalls flourish? Is it their quality of food? The speed at which it’s served? The “unique” kind of ambiance? What!?

Would the answer be as plain as “to just keep it simple”? I don’t think so.
As for a proper answer, I’m still on the lookout for one. In the meantime, chaat? Anyone?


Vivek said...

Its true that these kind of shops never run out of business. Maybe for the following reasons :
-Cheap Food
-Cheap Labor
-No Taxes (Some of them)
-College guys like us frequent them very often.

You will find this common to any of the REALLY fast food joints from peanut sellers to chaat stalls.
I recall a 'ice gola' stall running out off a cart near the petrol bunk and with increase in sales the guy had enough to buy off the ice cream shop next door! What used to be selling at 5 INR seems to be going at 10-15 INR.
Inflation is not the reason. Its the demand that makes him take these steps.
Apart from the food the place would serve as a hang-out of sorts.

Wait a minute, weren't we supposed to meet at Guptaji's chaat house now??

Vibushan Lakshminarayan said...

True. But if you see closely, I haven't observed any other fast food joints running as successfully as these. For instance, the "ice gola" place we went to, we were the only customers. Isn't it? Reg. peanut sellers, I havent seen it that crowded either. The point is that, Chaat stalls outrun even these kind of places, if i'm right..

sid said...

Lets not run out of ideas...its not inflation...its not customers...its the food that attracts the crowd...and the flock of birds and the fleet of flies...its not chaat unless you find a dead mosquito in your paani...its hand served with love and and gold picked from the caverns of the guys nose...but for these subtle taste additors, chaat joints cant survive...i almost forgot the great green worms on the coriander leaves...

Raja said...

dey good post... proves the point that you spend more time eating :) a good and interesting write-up and observations...


Vivek said...


Thats wat the great taste is ALL about!!