Wednesday, April 20, 2016

P - Pani Puri


Everyday, our group of five would get down at IS Sadan while coming back from college. The pani puri on the road side bandi was famous for its hot , spicy and tangy taste. It was a bit expensive than the rest, but taste was what mattered to us. We used to stand around the stall in a big circle, smacking our lips, feeling happy and excited as if a child just found his favorite toy. We would wait restlessly, with small cups made out of leaves in our hands, while he hurriedly shoved small cut onions.

"Garam dena bhaiyya", one of us used to say, mostly me. I liked it hot. On a rainy day, it comes close to nirvana. Topping even maggi.

Never at any other time do I feel so vulnerable, so in control of something. I would wait, impatiently, shamelessly salivating, as he heats up the ragada. The green cilantro and orange shred carrots are pleasing to the eyes. For some unfathomable reason, the color of the food makes me like it. Be it the greenness of broccoli or the orangeness of a carrot. The smell of the spices wafting from the large flat pan and the sizzling sound tug at my senses magically. I can almost feel it now, 9000 miles away from that place.

He starts one puri at a time. Its an art you know, to serve pani puri. You have the break the puri with your thumb, big enough to put the ragada in and small enough to hold the water and, then dip the puri in the big pot of mint pani. It doesn't bother me that along with the puri, his whole hand is in the pot of pani. It doesn't matter to me that he rubs his hands to a dirty cloth occasionally while catering to other customers. Traffic and dusty roads are least of my worries. All that matters then is savoring the delightful taste in my mouth, the leaking pani finding its way onto my new dress and me not caring a hoot, seeing the same pleasure on my friends' faces and hoping fervently that this one is not the last of what I bought. Pocket money was meager back in the days.

And eating it is also an art. Your speed and accuracy are tested here. The rate at which he serves the puris is something overwhelming for first timers. He is always in a hurry, whether there is only one person or twenty. Muscle memory probably. If you call life a race, I don't know what you would call this.

Standing for pani puri is the most humbling experience of all. Whether you are rich or poor, young or old, a college student or a professional, everyone waits with a katora in their hands, like a bhikari, waiting for their turn. Its the cheapest and unhygienic of all foods, yet everybody's favourite.

Katora( a small bowl)
For me, memories revolve around Sush and I stopping every single day near Super bazar or Sheikhpet for a round of pani puri on our way back from office. And then cooking up stories at home as to why we wont have dinner. Sometimes we had a convincing story(or so we thought), some other times we just had to have double dinner in order not to arouse suspicions.

I also remember my sister and I exploring new bandis in our locality. While I was the one who preferred to stick to my favourite corner, my sister always wanted to explore and find new tastes.

Not to be left out, my entire family was a big fan. I remember all the five of us, including my grandma, getting out of our car in front of a street stall, huddling around it, choking on the spicy pani and yet not stopping, never looking at any other chat forms even though they were delicious in their own sense, looking at each other to see who was ready to stop, but none willing, going on until our stomachs burst and throats burned and then leaving the place satisfied, thanking God in our hearts for bringing pani puri into our lives.

This is how we look when we are eating PP

This is the first thing I miss about India. Its almost like a sacrifice I made in exchange for a job opportunity in the US. We still make it at home, with the very same ingredients, but its not the same. Where do I get the road side dust and sweat of the panipuriwallah ?

PS : Apologize for the extremely long post.

PPS : Bhikari is beggar. Ragada is a curry like dish made of potatoes and green peas, used a stuffing inside the puri. Pani is water, but in this context, it is mixed with mint and some spices.

A typical bandi in a roadside corner


  1. Wow, I love how you described this experience! I can imagine all 5 senses being used. I would love to try this!
    Lisa at Tales from the Love Shaque

    1. Haha thank you! You should definitely try it. Its heavenly :) thanks for reading Lisa.


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