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Chat Patti: Indian snacks serve up vegetarian value 

In an official-looking string of self-made shop fronts lies an off-the-cuff vegetarian delight known as Chat Patti. Inside, customers are acting as if no one is around. Most are conversing about business or family gatherings while several others are eating solo and reading a paper or novel. "Can I help you?" a voice says. When eating food new to the palate, explanations of dishes are often helpful. And without hesitation, the waitress explains the menu to a confused man. This Indian experience will leave you understanding a little more about the culture as well as the food.

Don't rush me: This isn't the place to wine and dine your next girlfriend. The ambiance serves the simple purpose of hosting a restaurant. Seating is abundant. One of the things the staff tries to instill in its less-oriented guests is that its menu is meant to be enjoyed on the spot, so takeout or lengthy conversation aren't the best tactic. Let the food keep you occupied -- it's worth it. The menu is a sort of Indian/fast-food conglomerate that feels OK to indulge in because it's all vegetarian. Behind the glass counter is an array of food, sea of green, curry-yellow and shades of red. Ordering from the portion of the menu titled "snacks" will ensure a delightfully fast sampling for a mere buck or two.

Paratha: Indian cuisine has its staple of "bread" much like the South covets the biscuit. The biscuit of India is paratha. It's a butter-based bread with a flaky texture, which is deep-fried, grilled or done just about any way you can imagine. The chat specialties include several variations of a curry vegetable stew over pieces of crisp bread, topped with a variety of accent tastes ranging from yogurt to spicy sauces. In particular, the samosa chat and the Karachi chat are top picks. If you eat them while they're hot, the contrasting flavors and textures meld beautifully. They cost around $7 an order and are enough to share.

Choices abound: Ordering the vegetable thali is a chance to taste a little bit of everything. For $5.49 you get a multicourse dinner including rice, bread and various curries, tangy sauces and dessert. Dessert is an amber string of confectionary genius, a deep-fried twist of sugar and flour, and a perfect end to a large sampling of Indian food. Thali is a great way to span the menu when you aren't sure what to order.

Chat Patti is an experience worth having on a day when you don't have enough time for anything extravagant, but wouldn't mind a little exotic in the ordinary. It manages to put an authentic, unconventional spin on the fast-food market – and somehow make it vegetarian.

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