Indian cuisine is vast, varied and versatile, consisting of a diverse mix of savoury and sweet flavours, famed for enticing foodies all over the globe. A trip to one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants will reveal a range of delectable and innovative modern dishes, inspired by authentic Indian recipes. However, if you were to pay a visit to India in search of mouth-watering morsels, you wouldn’t necessarily have to book a table in the fanciest restaurant of the region – some of the best Indian food can be found on the street.
What is Pani Puri?
Take, for instance, the tasty street snack known as pani puri. At least, that is one of the names for this popular treat. Dependant on region, it is also known by other names including gol gappa, bataasha and gup chup. Different areas have their own name and own version for pani puri – they can be found all over India and are a firm favourite amongst the people.
Pani puri are a form of chaat, the Indian term for a small savoury snack and the family to which well-known treats such as samosas belong. They have a spherical appearance with a very light, crisp, flour shell – the puri. These shells are hollow and are filled with a tantalising, spicy stuffing including flavoured water (also referred to as the pani) as well as chopped chillies, potato, onion, chickpeas and a sweet, tamarind chutney which serves to balance the spice in true Indian style.
The flavoured water tends to be spiked with tamarind, lemon juice, mint or dates. However, the most famous form of pani puri and a version that is considered slightly superior is the Kolkata speciality, phuchka. The filling for phuchka does not tend to include water but uses instead tamarind juice and mashed tamarind pulp mixed with mashed potato and a generous smattering of chilli powder. However, the different versions of these street snacks are beloved all over the country.
Maharashtra prefers its pani puri to be spicy and consumed with curds and masalas whilst road stalls in Hyderabad line the streets, offering pani puri stuffed with chickpeas in spiced water.
Pani Puri – How do you Eat Yours?
The traditional method of serving pani puri is to arrange up to eight of these little fried balls on a plate made from leaves or to buy them one by one from a street vendor who will whip them up individually while customers look on. It is harder than it looks to create pani puri quickly, especially if your customers are in a rush – the fillings can vary greatly and people may have different requirements.
The way pani puri tend to be eaten in India is by popping the whole snack into your mouth and crunching it up, causing the snack to, quite literally, burst with flavour. The flow of tart, spiced water along with the crispy puri blend together with the other ingredients into an explosion of taste and texture that will certainly leave you craving more.