Several years ago my husband and I spent five weeks in India. We landed in the south, where it’s particularly hot and humid, and where the food, primarily vegetarian, centers around rice and dal, sambhars and chutneys. My husband, who must have been Asian in a previous life, could live happily on this diet, but despite the intoxicating spices, I quickly grew tired of it. It wasn’t the vegetarianism that wearied me, but the uniform texture of the food. Dals–ssplit peas and lentils–are cooked until soft and then pureed. Vegetables and sambhars (thin lentil-and-vegetable soups) are also reduced to mush, and rice, of course, has very little intrinsic body. We had come from southeast Asia, where raw, crunchy vegetables and herbs garnish everything, crispy noodles sometimes replace rice, and salads are abundant.

When the humidity became too much for us, we insulated ourselves in an air-conditioned train for a forty-hour ride north, watching through the windows as rice paddies gave way to wheat fields. We escaped the humidity, but not the heat. One day, outside Khajuraho, while on a blistering bike ride one could only call foolhardy, we stopped at a corner cart where a man was selling Cokes and snacks. Into disposable bowls fashioned from dried leaves, he spooned warm whole spiced lentils, a thin, dark, sweet-tart tamarind chutney, yogurt, and a tiny pile of sev, crispy dried noodles.

Rarely has food or drink tasted so good. The ice-cold (unusual!) Cokes, sticky sweet and effervescent, cooled our insides and revived our blood sugar, and the food–chewy, creamy, crunchy, and spicy–sparked our taste buds in ways nothing had since we’d arrived in India. We had discovered Indian snack food, an enormous range of dishes that we might categorize as embellished chips, appetizers, sandwiches, wraps, or savory pancakes, but which Indians simply call chaats.

Indians regard many chaats as snacks, morsels to stave off hunger, but some are substantial enough to comprise a light meal. All include the revelatory tastes and textures we experienced that day in India.

I recently tasted that dish from Khajuraho–well, not exactly that one, but another quite similar–at the newly opened Hut-K Chaats on Packard. Their multigrain papdi chaat (C3 on the menu) combines toasted flatbread crumbs, spiced green split peas, chickpeas, potatoes, sweet cilantro chutney, yogurt, and sev. Hut-K is trying to make chaats healthier, using less sugar and deep-fried elements and adding whole grains, but for me, this dish’s selling point is its deliciousness. Equally tasty is the nontraditional quinoa-lentil wrap (W5), a combination of earthy yellow split peas, chewy quinoa, lettuce, and more sev and green chutney, rolled in a multigrain flatbread. If some of the components are nontraditional, the spicing is not, and each of these dishes made a satisfying lunch.

The menu at Hut-K is quite limited and much of it is truly snack food, as opposed to a meal. Dahi sev puri (C4) sports semolina puffs, almost insignificant in their lightness but wheaty and crunchy, with potato masala (potatoes simmered with chiles, turmeric, mustard seeds, and other spices) and fruity green chutney swirled with yogurt. Shanu chaat (C7) is toasted pieces of flatbread topped with split peas, potatoes, chutneys, sev, and spiced chickpeas rolled in colocasia (taro/dasheen) leaves. Coconuss chilli shot (B3) is a house-made roti, or flatbread, dense and chewy with whole grains, that met with mixed success at our table. While I enjoyed its nutty texture, others found it dry, and the undressed vegetable-apple slaw served alongside definitely needed moistening. We found the accompanying smooth pepper-nut chutney addictive, the pasty, unsweetened coconut one unpalatable.

Hut-K is not the area’s first restaurant specializing in vegetarian Indian street food: Neehee’s, on Ford Road in Canton, has been open about two years. Its huge menu ranges from snacks to meals and fuses authentic with creative, stretching across the entire subcontinent and beyond.

In our admittedly small sampling of their extensive menu we found their dahi puri (C8) much like Hut-K’s, though the chutney is sweeter, perhaps too sweet. The masala puri (C21) tops toasted flatbread with a split pea curry, chutney, tomatoes, and sev. Chana chaat (C24), a warm mix of spiced regular and black chickpeas, onions, tomatoes, and lime, is a wonderfully simple side dish. Raj kachori chaat (C29) features a large, dal-stuffed flatbread that’s fried, torn apart, and topped with potatoes, beets, peanuts, chutney, and yogurt; it would be better if it weren’t so sweet. I prefer the substantial samosa ragda (C13), fried vegetable samosas smashed and piled with split-pea curry, chutney, onions, and sev. We found vegetable pakoda (P6), fried mixed-vegetable fritters, too dry and hard. And idly sambhar (D1), steamed rice-flour cakes accompanied by chutney and sambhar, are exactly as I remember them in southern India–bland, glutinous, and unappealing.

Interested in dishes that might provide more of a meal, we dipped into the dosas, South Indian rice- and lentil-flour crepes, with dabeli dosa (D36). The dosa, thinner and crisper than I remember from India, is delicious nonetheless, and the filling, savory potatoes with peanuts and onions, is a wonderful counterpoint. Almost better is the onion rava masala (D24) a lacy, ephemeral semolina crepe cooked with onion and cilantro and enclosing potato masala. Both came with the traditional accompaniments of sambhar and chutneys. In the Indian-Chinese section, gobi 65 (H7), deep-fried cauliflower coated in a fiery, garlicky chile sauce, proved irresistible.

Singapore noodles (H16) is not the yellow curry noodle dish typical in Chinese restaurants; Neehee’s version sports a piquant red chile sauce with vegetables, nuts, and pineapple. At one lunch my husband ordered the corn-chutney-paneer grilled sandwich (C11), a quartered yellow, green, and white tri-layer concoction. He found it disappointingly bland, but I enjoyed its simplicity and could imagine a small child delighting in such colorful triangles.

Both restaurants round out their menus with tropical ice creams and a variety of exotic beverages, including mango lassi. Hut-K’s, blended with real fruit rather than mango juice, is clearly superior. Although both places are storefront enterprises, Neehee’s is slicker and more chic–like its menu, almost overly stimulating.

Neither ambience invites lingering over a meal, and each offers takeout, but I recommend eating in if possible. Both restaurants sport pictures and explanations of the dishes and friendly staff to help you sort out the menus. Look at the items as you might a tapas menu, small plates to be mixed at whim. Be warned that much of the appeal of Indian street food lies in its freshness–in contrasting textures and tastes of crispy and crunchy, soft and chewy, tart and sweet, pungent and soothing–and taking it home often produces the soggy mush that bedeviled me in southern India.

On that trip, as my husband and I moved farther north, we tried other street food, switched rice for wheat breads, and added meat to our diet. In America, too, chaats can guide a voyage of discovery. For the non-native consumer, Hut-K and Neehee’s menus may be difficult to wade through at first, but both offer utterly delicious vegetarian food, with invigorating and enticing flavors that beg you to try more.

Hut-K Chaats, 3022 Packard, 786-8312

Tues.-Sat. 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Closed Mon.


Wheelchair friendly

Hut-K also will soon open a cart at Mark’s Carts on Washington.


45656 Ford Rd, Canton, 737-9777

Mon-Thurs. 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Closed Sun.


Wheelchair friendly