103 - South Indian Vegetarian

By Mary Luz Mejia

All over India, roadside stalls sell snacks or "chaat," a Hindi word meaning "to lick." Chaat is a traditional, largely vegetarian Hindu food comprising of spicy, cold appetizers originally served on banana leaves. The piquant juices running onto the leaves often prompt hungry snackers to lick their organic containers, hence the name.

If you find yourself in Little India with a hankering for a portable, zesty snack, rest assured that we too have our own "chaatwallah" (purveyor of chaat snacks), and among the best is the India Paan & Cold Drink House. Tasty tidbits are prepared on the spot for those on the run by proprietor Fazila and her team. Using protein offerings that come in the form of legumes and pulses, the array of snack choices is as impressive as the myriad of flavours.

Paan makingOne of my favourites is the savoury Indian grilled corn. A quick grilling of fresh corn is followed by a vigorous rub of lime halves that are dipped in an in-house-made four spice blend including chilis and salt.

For the more daring, Indian tradition calls for a customized order of paan after a meal to aid digestion and promote fresh breath. Specializing in meetha (or sweet paan), Fazila starts with a tender betel leaf and quickly sprinkles a host of spices and pastes on top -- cloves, fennel, coconut flakes, and rose paste to name a few.

The idea is to pop the folded triangle in your mouth and chew as the sweet juices coat your tastebuds in a fantastic mix of textures and tastes. Ideally, you'll chew for about ten minutes, after which you can discard the leafy core that once held the sweet mixture. And after trying out your savoury snacks, this light-on-the-calories sweet finish is the perfect way to end any culinary excursion.

India Paan & Cold Drink House
1427 Gerrard East
Toronto, Ontario