I just spent three lovely days with my sister Melissa and her wife Jennifer who were visiting from the East Coast. I set aside my collages to play host, not concerned that I would be without therapeutic activities. One of my favorite forms of therapy is good eating, so I was delighted when Jennifer suggested lunch at Vik’s Chaat Corner in Berkeley (http://www.vikschaatcorner.com/).
Jennifer had been to Vik’s as a grad student at UC Berkeley years ago. Back then, it was nothing more than a nondescript warehouse on a commercial stretch of West Berkeley. Well, much has changed on Fourth Street since the nineties. Vik’s moved to a larger, brighter warehouse in the same area which is now dotted with artist studios and “Build it Green Certified” apartments. The area of Fourth Street a few blocks north is now a high-end shopping district characterized by several good eateries and stores such as Sur La Table, Anthropologie, Kiehl’s and M.A.C. Cosmetics. Vik’s boasts a spacious, colorful dining area with an adjoining market place for all of your Indian cooking needs.
Now that I think about it, I’m a bit surprised that Jennifer even suggested Indian food because the two of them live in Jackson Heights, Queens -one of the biggest Indian neighborhoods in New York. On the other hand, they probably wanted to compare good Indian food on the other coast.
Vik’s is not your run-of-the mill Indian restaurant with “the best chicken tikka massala” around. In fact, you would not find that on the menu. According to some of our Indian friends, this is the only local restaurant that serves authentic Indian food. Order at the counter from the daily specials, and then wait until your name is called from one of the various open stations. We grabbed a mango and a rose lassi and waited. Here are Jennifer and Melissa, happy because they will be eating soon:
We decided on a Massala Dosa (a huge savory pancake stuffed with potato filling), Dahi Padpi Chaat (Jennifer’s favorite – made with little dumplings (papdis), potatoes and garbanzo beans smothered with yogurt and chutney), and Pani Puri, my favorite, in part because it is so much fun to assemble. I love puri, a huge puffed up hollow bread that reminds me of a blowfish. This chaat consists of tiny, individual puris. You poke a hole in them, fill them with potatoes and garbanzo beans, add a little tamarind chutney, and fill with spiced mint water. You then pop the whole puri in your mouth. Yum! Below you can see Melissa assembling one.
After quickly devouring these three chaats, we were ready for more. We spied what looked like a colorful little pizza at a neighboring table, and decided to try that one. This chaat is called Uttappam and is a rice and lentil pancake topped with tomatoes and onion. I could not even snap a shot before Melissa pulled a piece off.