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Thursday, September 20,2012

Indian street food in Lafayette

By Clay Fong

Chaat is savory Indian street food, and it’s also something that has become increasingly available at local eateries like Boulder’s Jai Ho and Tiffins. Lafayette’s Krishna Kafe is the newest purveyor of these subcontinental specialties, and like its forerunners, it’s a humble spot, located in a nondescript strip mall.

Brightly painted walls frame a spartan, cafeteria-style atmosphere. But decor isn’t this establishment’s raison d’Ítre, and the generous portions and reasonable prices make it a draw for families. The menu is expansive, and can be a tad daunting to those unfamiliar with chaat. But the counter staff was quick to make recommendations, and I joined friends Sara and Tim to devise a satisfying meatless dinner.

While we waited for our plates, my companions enjoyed $1.25 cups of chai, which were delicately spiced, but definitely not bland. They appreciated that this beverage arrived unsweetened, allowing them to adjust the sugar to their liking. My yogurt-based standby, a $2.99 mango lassi, stood out by virtue of its pure tropical flavor.

First out among the recommended dishes was the $5.99 samosa chaat, consisting of familiar fried turnovers enveloping cumin-scented potatoes and peas. The first-rate samosas were crisp on the outside and hot on the inside, and arrived submerged in flavorful cholay, or stewed garbanzos, and peppy chutney.

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The $4.99 Delhi Chaat consisted of crisp wafers, thicker than a pappadum and similar to fried won ton skins, combined with garbanzos and potatoes. It quickly became evident that chickpeas and tubers are staple chaat ingredients, but the heft of these elements nicely played off the wafers’ crunch. The $5.99 basket chaat was similar, albeit with a fried potato basket delivering the crispy qualities. A cooling, seemingly minty, yogurt sauce contributed additional tang to the dish.

I was familiar with the $4.49 Bombay Wada Pav, a fried potato patty scented with red chile and stuffed into a hamburger-type bun. Sara described this weighty item as a “gut bomb,” and certainly this selection, which consisted of two whole sandwiches, could make for a decent repast for a like number of diners.

Perhaps the most unique options were those that fell under the menu’s heading “Indochinese.” Chinese immigrants living in India created a hybrid cuisine that was developed somewhat parallel to the emergence of a distinctive Chinese-American cuisine in the United States.

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The first dish we sampled from this category was the $6.99 Dry Manchurian, a meatless cross between a fritter and a dumpling. Most intriguing was the accompanying sauce, which some might find a distant cousin to sweet and sour. But such a description doesn’t do it justice. This soy and chile concoction resembled that of the sophisticated and slightly tart red sauce that accompanies Chinese banquet steak slices, bringing forth zingy and earthy qualities.

Also enjoyable was the $5.99 Hakka noodles, which resembled thick chow mein in texture and appearance. Simply garnished with ginger, garlic and spicy oil, I found this toothsome pasta a compelling complement to the more assertive Manchurian.

Krishna Kafe is one of those cool ethnic finds that foodies live for. Inexpensive, satisfying and spicy, this Lafayette venue provides further evidence of the diversification of local Indian food. Although those fearing assertive spicing may shy away, the adventurous vegetarian diner will find much of the unique menu delightful.

Krishna Kafe is located at 400 W. South Boulder Road in Lafayette. Visit http://www.krishnakafe.com/ or call 303-665-2012.

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