When people talk about Indian food, they always talk about robust curries and maybe some vegetarian dishes, but one oft-unexplored area of Indian cuisine is an entire category of savoury snacks that are quite rarely found outside of the country. One of such is pani puri, which is one of the most popular street foods in India. I would see these snacks a lot in Bollywood movies, and before last year’ big food trip across North India, it was something that I bumped up to the top of my bucketlist.
Pani puri is quite a simple concept, and here’s how to break it down. “Pani” is the Hindi word for water, and a “puri” is a fried bread. Basically, pani puri is a snack that involves a fried sphere of dough which serves as a shell for the filling which is almost always comprised of mashed potatoes, chickpeas, or green peas. Often, pani puri includes other crunchy and savoury snacks such as rice puffs, crunchy noodles, and crispies. After filling the puri, it is dipped into a “pani” which is a mixture of cold water, spices, tamarind, mint, and coriander. The resulting snack is a delicate globe of crunchy filling swimming in a refreshing shot of liquid. I know it’s hard to imagine the taste if you’re uninitiated, but think of it as a minty, fresh, tangy, and slightly sour cold soup that is great to have on humid summer nights.
When I was in India around this time last year, I ate my way through the northern states of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. Although I ate like a garbage truck and was pretty adventurous with food, I drew the line at drinking water because sanitation is still a big issue even in urban areas, and my Indian friends strictly forbade me to drink water unless it came from a sealed bottle.
Since pani puri requires water, I had to wait until I met with my friend Arundhati in Gujarat so that she could bring me to a pani puri-walla with a good record of maybe not upsetting her stomach. Besides, it was an opportune moment to finally try it because Arundhati’s parents are doctors, and they would have been perfectly capable of looking after me if I got sick while they had me as a guest.
For the record, I did not get sick, and it was one of the highlights of my trip. Fun times.
Today’s solo sunset pani puri party was also a chance to enjoy the curd that I made myself. A version of this snack calls for a sauce made from dahi and spices, which then makes this a dahi puri. Now that I have nailed the recipes, I am raring for this quarantine to end so that I could invite some friends over and share a spread of pani puri.
*Posted on 11 April.