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Osama Jalali has a habit of wearing multiple hats. He has been a food critic, chef and even the curator of festivals of Mughlai and Rampuri cuisines at five-star hospitality addresses. And now he has turned entrepreneur too, with the launch of The Masala Trail (TMT) by Osama Jalali, a dining outfit he co-owns with restaurateur Vidur Kanodia. Currently, the brand has one outlet in Delhi’s Janpath Road, a food truck in Noida and is present in the food court of Select Citywalk Mall.
Jalali, who has pegged the restaurant as a site where Indian street food and regional cuisines converge, recalls the time when he stumbled upon some of the most unique street eats of the country. On one of the fabled ghats of Varanasi, he was once offered Tamatar Chaat, a warm, tangy concoction of ripe tomatoes that is topped with homemade crispy sev. ‘Being a Delhite, I had devoured cold chaats all my life. I was stumped by a piping hot chaat,’ says Jalali, who goes on to add how vendors lace their platters of Tamatar Chaat with Gulab Jamun ki Chashni (the sugar syrup in which Gulab Jamuns can be seen bobbing) to create a dramatic contrast between the sour tomatoes and the sweet syrup.
Not surprisingly, the Tamatar Chaat has hiked all the way from the ghats of Varanasi to the menu of The Masala Trail and has managed to find a fan following in Delhi’s diners.
Rifling through the pages of the menu (divided into North, South, East and West), diners get a sense of why the restaurant is such an unabashed celebration of Indian street food. One of the offerings of the restaurant is Banana Poori, a snack that thrives on the streets of Mangalore but has never found a home in outlets serving South Indian cuisines. A bold menu entry, Banana Poori has mashed, ripe bananas mixed into the dough, which introduces a hint of sweetness to the dish.
But fear not. It is not just the lesser-known inhabitants of street food town who have occupied pride of place here. Popular staples of regional cuisines will have you scraping your plates as well. The Bihari Litti is served with two varieties of Chokha or mash and you cannot miss the Madua Ki Roti (ragi poori) that is paired with Chokha and Chutney.
Vignettes of North India are visible in an array of chaats that are up for grabs and the most theatrical of them is the Tower Chaat. It comes to you in a tall glass and is a mad jumble of all the elements and textures of a classic chaat platter. Also keeping the chaat flag flying high is the Samosa Chaat, which melds usual street food suspects like the Samosa and Punjabi chole.
The restaurant duly pays obeisance to desserts that have acquired cult status across the country. The Haji Ali Fruit Cream is a paean to the Mumbai dessert, which draws in food pilgrims by the droves.
Actress Alicia Silverstone had once remarked, ‘I never count calories, but I eat so well.’ And nowhere is this truer than at The Masala Trail.
Susmita Saha is a Delhi-based Features Writer. She has worked as an Assistant Editor at India Today and The Telegraph and writes on arts and culture, films, travel, food, architecture, design and various other lifestyle subjects. She has seriously itchy feet and plans to tick the world off her bucket list, one burger at a time.