Friday, June 1, 2012

Mood Cafe

4618 Baltimore Ave
Philadelphia, PA 19143
(215) 222-1037

A couple of years ago I wrote about the Desi Chaat House in West Philly. When I heard about the Mood Cafe, I thought I would see how the competition stacked up.

Well to my surprise, it is owned by Hassan, the same eccentric and lovable fellow as both the Desi Chaat House, and Desi Village. I should have known, with the bright orange exterior, but I thought maybe it was a building code in West Philly for Chaat places - like when your blood sugar is so low while looking for a snack that non-vibrant colors are impossible to see. The interior is simple with a chalk board menu and a couple of cases, along with the hard-to-miss back row of crunchy bits. Hassan flies around the back like a tornado once you have ordered. But a note about ordering. If you have never had chaat, just ask him what he suggests. He literally won't let you order some items because he wants to make sure the spices and sweet/sour contrasts aren't too much for your pathetic Western palette to handle. I had to talk my way into pani puri with spicy water, assuring him I have had it before, indeed even at his other place. See below for a sequence of Hassan in action.

Better yet, click below to see him in action.

Oh and don't forget the fresh, hot crunchy pieces.

Unfortunately the samosas were off limits, as they had just come out of the oven and "needed to set up for 45 minutes".

I actually didn't order (besides a mango lassie and pani puri) and just let Hassan pick two chaats for me. He went with the crazy chaat, and the behl puri.

The pani puri was served with the spicy water, and another side that seemed to be spicy water with potato and chickpeas in it. Both tasted about the same, tamarind spiked with a bit of kick. I would have preferred a bit more kick myself.

It's a pretty tasty snack (as chaat is meant to be) but perhaps the best part is cracking the top and pouring in liquid. It's all about the act, at least for me. The crazy chaat came with, well about everything you could think of. Long flat crispy noodles were the centerpiece, with dried cranberries, chunks of mango, a mint chutney, yogurt sauce, and fig sauce round out the flavor explosion. This example is chock full of six other crispy chaat pieces from around India, as well as almonds and dried figs. It's quite a refreshing lunch on a hot summer day.

One of the strangest things about chaat is that although they use many of the same ingredients, they all taste very different in different combinations. The behl puri has thin crispy sev chaat that are reminiscent of Chinese egg noodles, as well puffed rice, mango, onions, and potatoes. It again came with the chutneys, and chickpeas.

It's hard to describe the flavors used in chaat. It's sweet, salty, sour, and spicy. I guess that wasn't so hard, actually. It's everything. The cool temperature of the ingredients and the contrasting crunchy, chewy and soft ingredients can make your head spin. Although the choices can be overwhelming, let Hassan guide you through your journey into Indian street food. It is probably the most healthy thing you will eat all week. For me it is, at least.

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