Pani Puri: An Explosion of Complexities and Textures

pani puri

A large pot of ‘paani’ (spiced water), a vessel filled with mashed potatoes, a few containers of spices and a big pile of puffed-up hollow bite sized ‘puris’.  All of this is meticulously balanced on the round base of a tall stool like structure made from bamboo whose owner furiously punches holes in the puris while filling them with potatoes, spices and finally the flavoured water.  Devoured by impatient customers who make a beeline for these ubiquitous make shift street stalls, pani puri is a dish that is much enjoyed throughout India. 

A Perennially Favourite Experience  

Eating pani puri is like eating a snack quite like none other as it requires more skill than you think!  The liquid laden puri needs to be eaten as whole and as you pop it into your mouth, there is a burst of myriad flavours to say the least.  The spicy water along with the mildly flavoured potatoes coupled with the crunch of the puri make it a gastronomic journey that is utterly enjoyable.  Hence, it is little wonder that this street food is a favourite across the country. 

Beleived to have originated in the Varanasi region of Uttar Pradesh, pani puri is again known for its regional variations.  While it is called pani puri in Mumbai, it is known as golgappa in Delhi and puchka in Kolkata.  In the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, it is called pani ke batashe.  The variations arise due to the differences in the taste of the ‘paani’, the fillings as well as the base which is made from ingredients like semolina and refined flour.

The crispy hollow puris are readily available in the store and it is not very common to make it at home.  While some prefer making the puris from scratch, most people opt for store bought puris.  The filling can vary from potatoes, onions, chickpeas and even sprouted greens which are mildly spiced.  The soul of the dish is of course the paani which is simply the conventional spicy and sweet chutneys in the liquid form.  While it is a common practice for vendors and restaurants to serve a spicy chutney made from coriander-mint-green chillies and a sweet chutney made from dates and tamarind separately, you can combine both while making it at home.  Below is a simple and easy recipe that makes the best pani puri. 

pani puri
The hollow puris for the pani

Recipe

Ingredients

1 packet store bought puri

For the filling

  • 3-4 boiled potatoes softened to a paste
  • 3-4 tbsp finely chopped onions
  • 2-3 tbsp green gram sprouts
  • 2 tsp chaat masala
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp black salt
  • Salt to taste

For the paani

  • 2 cups fresh coriander cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup mint leaves cleaned and roughly chopped
  • 2-3 green chillies
  • 1 tsp finely chopped ginger
  • 3 tbsp thick tamarind pulp
  • ½ cup deseeded and roughly chopped dates
  • 2 tsp chaat masala
  • 2 tsp red chilli powder
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tsp black salt
  • 1 tsp asafoetida
  • 1 tbsp jaggery powder
  • Salt to taste
  • 500 ml water

Method

  • To make the paani grind take all the ingredients listed under “for paani” to a fine paste. Add water as necessary.  Sieve to remove fibre or stalks if any.  Add the remaining water and keep in the refrigerator for about an hour or two.
  • Mix all the ingredients mentioned under “for filling” in a bowl and combine well.
  • To assemble the puri, take a single puri and punch in a hole.  Add a tbsp of the filling and then add the paani using a ladle.  Serve immediately.
  • Each puri needs to be eaten as a whole in one go.

Notes

  • Adjust all spice powders per your taste
  • For the paani, adjust the spice-sweet-tangy ingredients per your taste.  For instance, add more jaggery powder or dates if you have a sweet tooth or more green chillies if you like your paani spicy.
  • You can add 2-3 tbsp of boiled black chickpeas along with a tsp of fresh coriander for the filling if you do not prefer sprouts.

All images courtesy of Rashmi Gopal Rao

This story is part of our continuing series on the eclectic street delight that is chaat on SEEMA.com. To check out the previous story in the series, read Bhel Puri: A Crunchy, Flavourful Delight!