Udupi Cafe's Chaat Corner: Indian Street Food Sets the Snack Time Bar

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Udupi's staff assembling the proper bite of panipuri
Those who have left Indian restaurants bursting at the seams and wondering, "What do Indians have for just a snack?" will have their question answered at Udupi Café's Chaat Corner. The snacks served at the Chaat Corner have never seen the inside of a food truck, but is known as street food in the truest sense of the word, sold from carts or food stalls on every other street corner in the town of Udupi. Owned by the same owner and sharing the same kitchen as Udupi Café, a South Indian vegetarian restaurant, the Chaat Corner occupies the small bakery space next door, inside a sleepy corner of Overlake Square Mall in Bellevue.

"Chaat", traditionally meaning, "savory snacks", is usually and better yet, something fried. The intensely crunchy, bright, spicy, and sometimes tangy chaat from Udupi's Chaat Corner gives more credit to snack time than that impersonal bag of Hot Cheetos. Though the Chaat Corner shares the same chef as Udupi Cafe, it is distinctly different in taste and feel, the black sheep younger sibling of the more civilized restaurant space serving large meals to hungry families. The cozier Chaat Corner on the other hand, houses a more diverse crowd; two men stuff their mouths full of panipuri, fried crisps stuffed with a chickpea potato hash and cooling tamarind water, while watching a soccer game on TV, a lone diner sweats over a breaded and fried pepper called mirchi chaat, and a couple sharing mango lassis and syrupy funnel cakes called jelebis. Savory snacks range from $3 to $6 dollars and desserts like galub jamun, syrupy rich donut holes, and cham cham, cheese filled rose water and saffron cakes, for $5, can be shared like tapas or taken to go.

Sharing the strip mall with a Chuck E. Cheese's and a small international market, the nondescript and largely ethnic strip mall location has kept the Chaat Corner quiet, a secret spot among other Indians in the know. However, there is no shortage of staff at the family owned Chaat Corner and restaurant, usually a brother-in-law, wife, or friend of the owner, willing to guide the way to the next capsaicin high. Once initiated, the idea of Indian meals will stray from the safe naan and meat curries, to tangy vegetarian, and subsequently, from large meals to smaller bites.

 
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