Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pani Puri/ Gol Guppa/ Puchka

I think Shanthi Vihar was the first place in Chennai where I had pani puris.  For the longest time, it was the only place that served chaat.  I lived in the Adyar area.  We would occasionally go to Mylapore to shop and would wind up eventually at Shanthi Vihar.  


After a while, places like Gangotri  and Ajnabi opened up, and also started serving authentic chaat.  A trip to one of these places was not complete unless we had a plate or two (or three) of pani puris. . 

On one of my recent trips to India, we went to Kolkata.  I have been wanting to go, mainly to see where my husband grew up.  We visited his childhood home, went to his school and also got to meet a lot of his friends.  The whole trip was fantastic!

Anyway, after hearing so much about Kolkata chaat, we had to try it out for ourselves.

One of my husband’s friends took us to a street-side puchka wala.  This guy had a cart with his ingredients with a small lantern and some small bowls made of dried thick leaves – talk about environmentally friendly!  

The puchka wala stood behind a big pot with the pani (water), a big bag of puris hanging off to the side of the pot.  He also had the filling, a sweet chutney and a spicy chutney near by.  He gave each of us a small dried leaf bowl (dhonnai - in tamil) to hold so that the pani didn’t drip on our clothes.  Once he had our orders, he picked up a puri, punched a hole in it, filled it with stuffing, and depending on our spice tolerance, adjusted the chutneys, dipped this whole thing into the pot, filled it with the pani and placed it in our bowl – all in a matter of seconds.  And no matter how many people were around him, he did not lose count of the number of puris each of us had eaten or everyone’s preference in spice level.

My older son loves pani puris and I have got them before from stalls in Chennai – but always only after making sure that they used mineral water to make the pani.  Even with this, my son would sometimes fall sick. 

This puchkawala made no claims about the kind of water he used, and looking back on it now, it was probably not the best place to take my kids to eat, but the puchkas tasted sooooo good that even if we had fallen sick later, it would have been totally worth it!

Surprisingly, even though this guy did not use mineral water, nobody fell sick!

We don't have a place that serves chaat here in the Boulder area, but I do make pani puris occasionally for parties.  The last time I made it, there was a heated debate between my husband and my friend about where pani puris originated.  He claims it was Kolkata and she insists it was Delhi.  I don’t think we ever resolved this issue.  

While the pani puris I make are nowhere close to the street side puchkas of Kolkatta, they are a big hit with my friends and family.

I made some for a family reunion and made some more for a couple of my friends who visited this week.

Here is what you need:

To make the puris:
(makes around 40 - 50)
  • 1 cup semolina
  • 1 Tbsp. all purpose flour
  • salt to taste
  • club soda

Put the semolina, flour, and salt in a bowl.  Mix in the club soda a little at a time to make a stiff dough (like pizza or chappati dough)  Cover with a wet cloth and let it rest for about 15 minutes.

Make small balls of the dough (about the size of cherries).

Using a puri press (roti maker/tortilla maker), flatten these into puris, a few at a time.
Heat oil.  Put about 6 – 8 puris pressing them down to help puff them up in the oil.  Fry till they are crispy and golden.  Drain in a colander and store in an airtight container till you are ready to use them.

For the filling (your choice of any of the following):

  • boiled potatoes, peeled and diced
  • kala channa or yellow peas, soaked overnight
  • moong sprouts

Add salt, chaat masala, and chili powder to the potatoes.  Mix well.  Set aside.
Boil the kala channa or yellow peas in a pressure cooker with salt and hing.  Drain and set aside
Bring the moong sprouts to a boil with a little bit of water.  Turn off after about 5 minutes.  Mix in some salt.  Set aside.

For the pani:
(quantities will vary depending on the amount of pani you are making and on how sweet or spicy you want the pani to be)

pani puri masala
cold water
green chutney (coriander and green chili chutney)
imli chutney (tamarind chutney)
chaat masala
chopped coriander
chopped mint
boondi (optional)

See my post on papdi chaat for chutney recipes.

To make the pani:

Take the amount of water you  need in a bowl.  Add some pani puri masala.  Mix well.  Now add a little bit of the green chutney and imli chutney.  Mix well.  Add chaat masala.  Taste the pani.  Adjust ingredients to get the desired spice level.  If it is too spicy, add some water.  Garnish with chopped cilantro and chopped mint.

To assemble the puris:

Have some imli chutney and coriander chutney available so that people can add it to taste.

Poke a hole in the puri carefully.  Put desired filling into it.  Fill it with pani.  Pop the whole thing into your mouth and enjoy!

Note:  You can make the puris ahead of time - store them in an airtight container for about two weeks.

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