Monsoon of Memories: Queuing up for Pani Puri
The queue is not serpentine like the one that typically was expected at electricity or telephone bill payment counters before everything got digitalized. There’s no pushing nor any sign of impatience. It’s a clear, no-fuss, straight queue. Everyone is perfectly queued up for their share of pani puri and is willing to wait for their turn.
Yes, that’s the magic of this wildly popular snack! Described by Britannica as “a hollow, crispy-fried puffed ball filled with potato, chickpeas, spices, and flavored water,” the emotion attached to this chaat re-mains indescribable.
When I look back at my many years of relishing pani puri, even thinking of gulping a mouthful makes me nostalgic and break into a broad smile. Now, we all have our own pani puri traditions and while they vary from one to another, what remains sacrosanct is the very act of consuming them. Yes, call it by any name—pani puri, puchka, or gol gappe—but the emotion behind this quintessential street food remains charming as does the medley of flavors when it bursts in the mouth.
A few of us are divided on which puris we love more—the ones made with atta (wheat flour) or with sooji (semolina). Almost everyone has a specific ratio of meetha pani (sweet water) and khatta pani (sour water) that works for them. And who doesn’t ask for a bowl full of extra pani at the end of the delectable fare? Then, there are a few of us who want the puri to be filled with only a potato mash, or a mix of potato and boiled chickpeas; and some prefer a dash of onions too. There are few who like dahi puri as much as pani puri, but that discussion is for another day.
Once your turn to be served comes, whether you’re with a group of friends or family, or even around a bunch of strangers, you can still form a circle of camaraderie bound by the mutual love of pani puri and let the vendor serve you clockwise. I miss standing in the queue and gobbling up the puris at the right pace—by the time the vendor reaches me in the circle, I should’ve had the previous puri. Yes, the pace is crucial while serving as well as consuming.
Yes, now, filtered and bottled water is promoted as the USP at pani puri stalls, the vendors also wear gloves while serving, and the puris too come wrapped in plastic packaging or in cardboard boxes, but they don’t match up to the “oh-so-street” (“unhygienic,” if you may) charm.
I recall the excitement over all of the family prepping to leave for the pani puri outing. How we made sure we went empty stomach, for what if we changed our minds and had more than a plate- ful (a plate came with six or eight puris) or felt tempt-ed to savor other items like the aloo tikki, papdi chaat, and more.
You can now order the hollow puri shells online and prepare a plateful yourself on your dining table, but how do you match it with asking the vendor, “Bhaiyya, thoda paani, please!” or “Bhaiyya, thoda teekha kam!” (Extra water, please! Less spicy, please!)
Photo: Mayuri Mulji
The tanginess of one of the most beloved snacks, and an affordable one at that, lies not just in the water prepared with tamarind, chili powder, and chaat masala, but in the wholesome, full paisa vasool experience of savoring one.
Purva Grover is an author, journalist, poet, playwright, and stage director. A postgraduate in mass communication and literature, she is the founder-editor of The Indian Trumpet, a digital magazine for Indian expats in the UAE. She can be reached at email@example.com. To comment on this article, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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