I don't think anyone who has eaten pani puri, or gol gappe as they are also known, will ever forget the taste sensations when the first ball of deep fried goodness is popped into the mouth. This is truly food at its most simple, yet with terribly complex flavours.
A firm favourite with most Indians, young and old, pani puri is the quintessential street food. You can always tell the who good vendors are, as they inevitably have a dozen or more people standing around them. You stand around him, and ask for a round. You get a little bowl made of leaves, and he quickly makes up a puri with all its additions, dips it in a large vessel of the spicy pani (spiced water) and he passes it to you. You put the whole thing in your mouth, get about ten seconds to chow down and savour the deliciousness (while the rest of the people standing around get their puris) and its your turn again. After about ten of these, you get asked if you want another round. If you say yes, which inevitably I do, then you get another round of ten more puris... and so it goes on. At the end the vendor tots up how much you owe him and you pay up, and wander down the market, stuffed to the gills, but very very happy. Life is made of moments like these.
My favourite story involves my dear husband, Kay. I introduced him to pani puri after I picked up a takeaway of them from Tooting in London. He loved them so much, that the very next day he wanted to head over to Southall and see if we could find a restaurant that sold them. Southall, as most people know, is really Bombay in disguise, so of course we found a chaat (Indian savouries) place. And Kay is the only white guy there. So anyway, we are sat there, and the waiter brings us a large plate of pani puris and its assorted condiments, including the spicy water. We are happily digging into them, when this elderly Indian gentleman stops by our table. He pats Kay on his shoulder, in a very loud and stentorian voice, announces 'You know you're going to suffer on the toilet tomorrow young man'!!! Of course by this time the whole place is looking at us and I was just choking with laughter... Kay was bright red with embarrasment, and I have never let him forget this incident. I bring it up every time I make pani puri at home now :-)
The pani puri I have made here is out of a box, am fraid. I made the chickpea and potato filling and the sweet tamarind and date chutney myself. The water is made with a premade mix, and the little yellow savouries called 'boondis' came with the box of puris. I bought the puris, chaat masala and the pani puri water mix from an Indian food store on 34 Ave.
If you fancy making your own pani puri shells, here is an excellent recipe from Sailu's Food, which also has the recipe for the tamarind and date chutney. The fillings for the puris vary according to region, and being the lazy person I am, I make the easiest of them lot. Assemble the fillings and the puris in small bowls on the table, and dig right in. Its a very social kind of food, and best shared with lots of friends and family around.
This recipe is for the chickpea and potato filling. Will make enough to fill roughly 24 -30 puris.
1 cup chickpeas, drained
1 large potato, diced
1 - 2 tbsp chaat masala (I used the Everest brand)
1 tbsp oil
Big handful chopped fresh coriander
Boil the potatoes until tender. In a deep pan, heat the oil, and add the potatoes, chickpeas and the chaat masala.
Stir until everything is well mixed and the potatoes are roughly crushed. Add the fresh coriander and stir together.
Taste and adjust seasoning.
Note: Chaat masala normally has salt in it so you don't need to add more salt.
Make the spicy water according to the packet directions. If you wish, you can add a handful of finely chopped fresh coriander to the water.
To assemble the pani puris - take a puri and gently knock a small hole on top. Fill with the chickpea/ potato filling. Add a little tamarind/ date chutney. Sprinkle over a few boondis. Dip the filled puri in the spicy water, and pop the whole thing into your mouth.
Enjoy the stunning taste sensations!!