Chaiyya Chaiyya Chaat

The ghee swims as it sizzles in a black, oversized frying pan. The smell of its fat hits my nostrils about the same time I realize the line of at least 40 hungry people waiting for food, knives thudding on plastic chopping blocks, wooden spoons stirring huge stainless steel vessels, and blenders whirring violently.

The phrase, “Can’t stand the heat? Get out of the kitchen,” is playing in the back of my head to the rhythm of the Bollywood song “Desi Girl.” Is this what being high feels like? Before you think that this is a trip on acid, let me clarify.

A few weeks ago, I decided it was a good idea to host an Indian street food night at my university’s student center called The Gastronomic Society. Two other students approached me with the idea, and I was all chaat-y about it (forgive the terrible chaat pun). After a few meetings, a little brainstorming, and a few ghazals later, we had a menu: samosas, chana chaat, carrot salad, and lassi.

Photo by fellow UNiSG student Vibe Jakobsen. She was kind enough to snap beautiful shots of the event while I was running around and balancing cooking and checking-in with guests.
Photo by fellow UNiSG student Vibe Jakobsen. She was kind enough to snap beautiful shots of the event while I was running around and balancing cooking and checking-in with guests.

The next hurdle was to get all of the ingredients for about 60 people with a $90 budget. On top of that, we were asked to buy as many locally-sourced/ organic ingredients as possible. Let me tell you, trying to cook Indian cuisine in Italy is next the Mission Impossible. Don’t even get me started on the laser maze that is choosing the right flour for samosas (this is where I admit I’m not yet fluent in Italian). Here is my pitch for the next movie:

  • Mission One: organize a list that doesn’t stress out my other organizing partner with proper proportions so you can go to Spain.
  • Mission Two: try to communicate about said list while abroad without Internet.
  • Mission Three: talk said organizing partner off ledge because her stress is becoming contagious. Create a Facebook campaign that displays your pun-filled sense of humor. Do not pass go, do not collect $200 (though, if you did, it could be useful for your increasing budget)
  • Mission Four: conduct damage control after realizing that not everything was purchased. Go on purchasing spree and try to come up with a prepping plan. Realize that you could really use a car to transport all ingredients the mile-long journey from home to The Gastronomic Society. This car, you do not have. Rely on your organizing partner’s German alley to supply vehicle. Do not bring money or credit card to purchase oil. Again rely on said German alley to bail you out. Bring oil with car.
  • Mission Five: prep all night and try not to kill self on night of event.
  • You’ve now completed mission impossible.

Back to 8 p.m. on the night of the event.

Photo by fellow UNiSG student Vibe Jakobsen. This is my fellow classmate Estefie.
Photo by fellow UNiSG student Vibe Jakobsen. This is my fellow classmate Estefie.

I can’t believe 80 people came! It both triggered a mini panic attack and an overflow of joy. Very quickly, I became a fly-on-the-wall of my own event as personalities started to sweat through the heat of the kitchen. The dhol beat loudly through speakers as I did my culinary version of garba, armed with wooden spoon dandiya. Wine was poured, bellies were filled and spice was had. I slowly retreated from the kitchen to appease the increasing line of people and collect piling dishes. As the music played and the night went on, we danced to various Hindi songs and cleaned until 2 a.m. I was so filled with adrenaline, endorphins and elations that it was like I was drunk. I felt like I was floating outside of myself. So this is what it’s like to run a pop-up restaurant!

Photo by fellow UNiSG student Vibe Jakobsen. By the way, I decided to chop off my hair. It was a hectic evening, but it was so worth it.
Photo by fellow UNiSG student Vibe Jakobsen. By the way, I decided to chop off my hair. It was a hectic evening, but it was so worth it.

It was a great learning experience, should I ever choose to do it again. First thing’s first: PREP, PREP, PREP. Assembly lines are your friend (aside from the negative imagery generated from Mr. Henry Ford). You need a schmoozer. Establish roles before the event. Figure out how to put this experience on my resume ;).

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