Thursday, April 13, 2006

WGS Street Food of India at Vansh

The Chaat Station

The absence of Mr. Bourdain at this year's World Gourmet Summit made the program rather unappealing to me (then again, I only went for his personality last year, as I don't really like French food). So I nearly threw away the World Gourmet Summit brochure this year until I noticed something right at the end under Partner Restaurants: "Street Food of India," otherwise known as the "Tastes of Regional Indian Chaats and Kebabs" at Vansh (Singapore Indoor Stadium #01-04, 6345-4466). Wow - chaat and kebabs?? Really? Those are my two favorite Indian dishes! It didn't take much convincing for me to make that call to sign up. Tonight, the meal finally came.

Making Keema Mutter

It pretty much turned out just as I had expected. They had a few stalls outside with plenty of varieties of food available, which is exactly why I came. The first station was full of chaat, the second station had some deep fried goodies, the third station had kebabs, the troughs in the middle featured the usual curries and rice, while the last station had dessert.

Clockwise from upper left: Dahi Papadi Chaat, Aloo Tava Chaat, and Pao Bhaji

We were told that two types of chaat that were pretty special: the dahi papadi chaat (or as they put it, "Indian nachos"), as well as the aloo tava chaat. Both were fine; the former was covered with the usual yogurt and spices, while the latter featured crispy potatoes. One more new one for me was the chowpatty bhel, which was apparently from Mumbai and kinda like a salad (including mango) topped with puffed rice. They of course had pani puri, although they were very small and not particularly spicy. The pao bhaji was good with soft buttery buns, even if the bhaji was more mushy than others I've had. They did have a similar bun-accompanied dish called keema mutter that I'd never tried before though, using ground mutton rather than the vegetarian bhaji. That wasn't bad, and it made it even more like Sloppy Joes.

Keema MutterMoving on, the pakora station had all sorts of deep fried goodies like potatoes and chicken, and wasn't bad, although I didn't dwell here too long, so as not to fill my stomach too quickly. The kebabs at the next station were definitely very smoky and nice, and I particularly liked the mushrooms, which were also decently spicy. I pretty much skipped all the curries in the troughs, although the dal was good enough for me to go back for twice (I still miss Bukhara's ghee-ridden dal though). This all ended with a mango kulfi with falooda, which was kinda like a skinny pointy ice-cream popsicle with glass noodles or something on top. It was fine, but not neccessarily one of my faves.

Anyway, at the WGS package price of S$65 (US$38) per person (excluding drinks and taxes too, mind you), this definitely wasn't cheap, and could have bought many, many, many meals at Raj, where the food is admittedly better too. But this was still a fun evening, complete with an Indian band as well as the opportunity to watch the food being made in the carts and being able to try so many different things. And while the cylindrically-rolled papadums provided at the beginning of the meal made it clear that these guys were trying hard to be modern and upscale (this place's sister restaurant is the Rang Mahal at the Pan Pacific Hotel), one of the accompanying red chutneys had a great spicy kick to it. I liked the food enough that I might come back, although Raj is definitely much, much cheaper.

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