Today I am focusing on the culinary chaos of a crispy hollow ball made of semolina or wheat, mashed potato, spicy tamarind water and crispy bread (puri). Combine them and you have the king of snacks, pani puri. You might know it by a different name – gol gappa, phuchka, gup chup, pani batasha, pakodi or phulki. They also might differ in the filling – some add mashed potatoes, others add diced potato or boiled yellow peas. They can be served with cold tamarind water, mint water, garlic water or thinned spicy curd.
Whatever the form this snack takes, there is something comforting about eating it at street-side stall.
But where did this culinary gem came from?
One legend which points us to Dvapara Yuga in the epic Mahabharata. It is said that when the newly-wed Draupadi returned home, her mother in-law and the Pandavas’ mother, Kunti, gave her a task to test whether her daughter-in-law would be able to manage life with scarce resources. Kunti handed Draupadi some leftover potato sabzi and just enough wheat dough to make one puri, and left her with a clear instruction to make food that would satisfy the hunger of all her five sons. Draupadi scraped these ingredients together and made Pani Puri and this food was blessed by Kunti with immortality. I am glad the food became immortal or else we would have never had the pleasure of enjoying this delicacy.
Another popular story behind pani puri or gol gappas is that it comes from Magadh region. One of the 16 Mahajanapadas (great kingdoms, in Sanskrit) of ancient India, the Magadhan Empire was situated on the banks of River Ganga in what is now west-central Bihar. History tells us that phulkis (the precursor to pani puri) was first originated here at the time when several traditional specialties like tilba or chewda were evolving. The person who invented them is long lost in history, but Indian will always thank this genius.
When they said “little joys of life”, I think they were talking about pani puri. People of different ages, sexes and classed stand in front of a pani puri vendor quietly in a queue. and wait for their turn, bonding over this yummy goodness.