This spicy-tart chickpea snack, which translates from colloquial Hindi to “super-hot chickpeas,” comes straight from the streets of my hometown, Mumbai. Or perhaps it’d be more apt to say it comes straight from the beaches of Mumbai– those noisy, colorful, crowded stretches of sea and sand that surround this noisy, colorful, crowded city.
Life in Mumbai is inextricably woven with the beach. The city sprang into existence centuries ago as a result of the deft reclamation of seven disparate islands, and no matter where you are in Mumbai, you are never too far from the gentle, rolling rhythm of the sea.
The sea provides its city’s denizens not just with a spectacular backdrop to everyday life, but also with free entertainment, making it a popular haunt for Mumbaikars of every stripe, age and socioeconomic background. You’ll rarely find anyone in a swimsuit in Chowpatty or Juhu or Versova, all popular beaches in the city, but what you will find is fully clothed families wading in the water, children swinging off the arms of their fathers, and couples walking hand in hand through ankle-deep waves, the gentle breeze from the sea offering a happy respite from the city’s harsh, humid heat.
What you will also find on the beaches of Mumbai is food. Lots of it, and all of it delicious. Even better, most of it is vegetarian and a lot of it is vegan-friendly. There’s Bhel, a snack made by throwing together rice crispies, onions, tomatoes and spices. There’s Pav Bhaji, a mish-mash of vegetables served with soft, hot bread rolls. Paani Puri, a tiny little fried bread stuffed with sprouts and a tangy-spicy liquid that literally bursts in your mouth with flavor. Or Sev Puri, a richer variation on bhel. And that’s just the beginning. You can never be too sure that the beach food of Mumbai is hygienic, and it’s safe to assume that it’s not, but giving it a miss would mean missing out on one of the greatest gastronomic experiences the world has to offer.
One such beach snack you should definitely not miss is Chana Jor Garam, a food so delicious that it even has its own Bollywood song.
Chana Jor Garam is usually sold by vendors who stroll up and down the length of the beach, a wicker basket slung around the neck with a wide strap fashioned out of fabric. In the basket is a pile of flattened, yellow-red chickpeas, kept warm by a little aluminum pot filled with hot coal that sits atop them. Order a serving and the vendor will mix it with some onions, coriander leaves and spices and serve it up to you in a newspaper cone.
Chana Jor Garam is easy enough to replicate in a kitchen anywhere in the world, and the version I have for you today is healthier because I roast the chickpeas in an oven instead of frying them. The chickpeas are typically flattened and you can do that if you wish, but in that case do as the vendors of Mumbai do and use kala chana or black chickpeas, which are available in Indian grocery stores. Kala chana has a firmer texture than chickpeas and can withstand the force needed for flattening them, whereas chickpeas would just mash into a powder. I used regular chickpeas largely because they are just more easily accessible here in the United States.
So go on, make these, and as you eat them with a glass of cold beer — or iced green tea– imagine you are on a Mumbai beach, with the salty breeze billowing through your hair, your bare toes burrowing in the sand, and your throat hoarse from shouting to make yourself heard above all that noise.
How great does that sound?
- 4 cups canned or cooked chickpeas, drained of all liquid and dried with paper towels
- 1 tsp vegetable oil
- 1 heaping tbsp chaat masala (available at Indian grocery stores)
- 1 tsp cayenne (use paprika for less heat)
- ¼ tsp garam masala
- ½ tsp turmeric
- Salt to taste
- 4 spring onions or scallions, green and white parts finely chopped
- ¼ cup coriander leaves, chopped
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a bowl, toss the chickpeas with the oil, chaat masala, garam masala, cayenne or paprika, turmeric, and salt.
- Spread the chickpeas in a single layer on a baking sheet.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven and let the chickpeas roast 30-45 minutes, until they are crisp. Oven temperatures vary, so if they are not crispy at the end of 45 minutes, give them some more time.
- Remove the baking sheet from the oven, place it on a rack and let the chickpeas cool about 10-15 minutes.
- Toss the chickpeas with the spring onions, coriander leaves and lemon and sprinkle with some more chaat masala, if you wish. Some people add diced tomatoes, but I prefer not to because they tend to make the chickpeas soggy.
I have a belated shout-out here to Rithika Ramesh, blogger at Vegan on the Prowl and owner of The Green Stove, a fabulous vegan bakery operating out of Mumbai. Rithika has written the Vegan City Guide to Mumbai, an ebook that covers just about everything you’d want to know about eating vegan in the city.
Rithika’s comprehensive guide covers not just restaurants– and she has a great compilation of vegan-friendly eateries in the city with addresses and introductions — but also vegan shopping, catering, Hindi translations for terms a vegan might find useful while eating out in Mumbai, and useful little tidbits like an introduction to the Green Dot system used by marketers of Indian packaged foods, where vegetarian foods are marked with a green dot and non-vegetarian ones by a brown one. Who knew?
She also goes through a list of common vegan foods that would be safe to order while eating out, including gluten-free foods for those so inclined. And there is even a vegan city guide map to help you get around the buzzing city without starving yourself.
If you’re planning a trip to Mumbai anytime soon– or if you even live in Mumbai and want to explore an animal-free lifestyle — you would definitely find this a useful resource. Head on over to Rithika’s blog to check it out.