When you shop till you drop, then a Pani Puri you must pop.

The past week really hasn’t had any food breakthroughs for me. I haven’t hunted out any hidden shacks. I haven’t tracked much of what’s been happening on the local food blogging scene. And in a moment of desperation, I even ate this cardboard chicken sandwich that must have lived a thousand years before it reached my plate.

No, I’m not sick. I’m just busy with wedding shopping for my now hooked-and-booked sister.


So yeah, the few functional brain cells I typically devote to this blog are now focused on scouring the shops in India. I feel like we experience wedding dress amnesia everytime we hit a new store – aaaaah! This is it! This is SO you!! [promptly wipe out image of SO-you dress in store #78 we just walked out of.]

Anyhoo, I may have exaggerated. There have been a few isolated moments of foodiedom. Three to be precise. Prawn curry at an aunt’s house, this takeway spiced chicken in roomali roti in fried omelette super roll that I scarfed down in my hotel room, and this, Shankar’s chaat:

Shankar sprinkled sev and carrots on his pani puri – unconventional. I’m opting out of the carrots next time.

Shankar is one of the best cooks we know – the lad used to run a chaat (aka Indian snacky street food) stall back in the day before he came over and started working with us. The guy has flavor at his fingertips, he can do magical things to something as simple and bland as boiled chicken, with nothing but salt, pepper and ginger-garlic paste. Or he can give a facelift to something you’ve been eating every day – let’s say lentils – and make you stare at it in awe, as though you’d never eaten it before. And if you put in a special request, like we did two days ago for some homemade pani puri and dahi puri, he goes all out to strut his stuff on the kitchen ramp.

I’ve blogged about Indian street food at least twice…no thrice…before. Pani Puri is one of those things I loved as a kid, and just never grew out of. And I know I’m not alone. I mean, how can eating crunchy waterballoons of chick peas and tamarind chutney and spicy water ever grow old? Especially when there’s no grown-up way of eating this thing. You can’t go at it with a half-assed nibble or God Forbid, a delicate fork crack through the centre to produce two civilized halves. Major faux pas. Don’t Do It. You’ve just got to shove it all into your mouth at the same time, anything less and it’ll collapse into this watery crumbly mess all over you. That’s why paani puri is also called gol gappa (round mouth) or gup chup (‘quiet mouth’ because your mouth is so stuffed that you can’t blubber a word out until it’s down your throat) or puchki (‘squirt,’ which is exactly what that waterballoon will do when you crunch into it). So yeeeah, not a first date kind of food thing. Unless you’re me and would get turned on by squirting edible waterballoons.

My niece Lisa – die-hard Pani Puri addict. Makes me proud this lil’ one.

What I love about the whole set up here is that (a) unless you’re some sort of Daring Deepfryer and want to make these semolina crunch balls (aka puris) by hand, you just buy them off the market. The rest of the ingredients, boiled chickpeas, tamarind chutney, spicy water – none of them are rocket science.

(b) you just set it all up into an assembly line, puri, chickpeas, chutney, water, and position your mouth at the end of it. Everything, the tap-and-crack right at the top of the puri, the dropping in of the chickpeas, the quick dip into the bowl of spicy water,  and the fat-assed mouth shove, all happens within the grand timespan of a minute. Maybe less.

(c) you can use the same ingredients to make other equally crunchy, mushy, tangy chaat variations. Shove some yogurt on the puris, arrange them in a pretty circle, limit the spicy water to a garnishing trickle, and rain on it with some sev noodles, and voila! Dahi puri. Another chaat all-time fav of mine.

(d) you HAVE to dig into it with your bare hands. Or with other forms of chaat, scrunch it all up in a bowl and make a hodge podge of it. You just can’t be dainty about it, so for a change, mannerless me fits right in on the dinner table.

I’m trying to squish in a chaat counter into the wedding. There can’t be a wedding in India without the customary bowls of chaat. I think the Proud Parents have stamped their seal of approval. Yeah, so while big sister is looking all pretty and bridely in the dress that’s ah! SO you!…well, you’ll know just where I’ll be ;)

My pretty little niece and her bowls of chaat

Author: InaFryingPan

With a family legacy of ingenious cooks, a nutritionist and chef-extraordinaire mother, and a father who introduced me to steak and caviar when I could barely reach the table, I had no choice but to acquire a keen awareness of food during my childhood years in Dubai. But it was only after I found myself on a college campus in Philadelphia – far away from home, too cheap as a student to spend on anything other than pizza, and with dorm rooms that had little rat-holes of kitchens if they even had them at all – when I developed a heightened appreciation of food. An appreciation of food that I once ate every night at the dinner table in Dubai, but that was now an entire ocean away. I lusted for the culinary treasures that lay outside the stale walls of my college dining hall, hijacked friends’ kitchens to try my hand at something, anything , remotely edible, and greedily raided different websites in search of highly-rated restaurants. With my move to New York to work for a consulting firm that secretly harbored self-professed foodies, my appreciation transformed into a passion, an addicition. I felt like everyone around me in New York was talking about food: where to get the best cupcakes, pizza slices, banh mi, kati rolls, pho, fried chicken, and every other food item out there that is just a plain old dish in some part of the world, but that’s become hyped to unforeseen proportions in New York. What fuelled my addiction over time was travel to different cities, both for work and play, which gave me unfettered access to the culinary havens of not only New York, but also of DC, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, Vegas, Austin, Seattle and even a little city called Bentonville (Arkansas!). After 9 years away from home, I’ve finally taken the leap to come back to Dubai – with not just an awareness, but genuine appreciation and passionate addiction for what I’d taken for granted as a child. Mom, I’m back to reclaim my seat at your dinner table, and to rediscover this city with its ever-expanding menu of international flavors.

11 thoughts on “When you shop till you drop, then a Pani Puri you must pop.

  1. IContemplate says:

    Paani Puri… yum. Never made them at home. I think I need to because you do not get decent pani puri here in Bahrain.

  2. saleem says:

    Shanker and his magic fingers does wonder in the kitchen. Pani Puri you can never get tired of it even if you eat every day. Well described how to eat Pani Puri and the photo’s explain that very well.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @IContemplate – You need to come to Dubai so I can feed you lady! There’s an empty spot on the dining table waiting for ya. :)

      @Priscilla – I hear ya, me too Priscilla, me too. I need to build an automated chaat machine that just pops out bowls of chaat at the press of a button. That, or elope with a chat stall dude in India.

      @saleem – thanks dad, couldn’t agree more, Shankar + Pani Puri rock! Given how close Akbar’s is to our place, we technically could eat it every day no? :)

  3. Didi says:

    Now you answered my question! The Husband and I were going around Lulu and I saw colorful bowls lined up for CHAAT. I couldn’t google right then and there so the question was left hanging: what is CHAAT? Hehehehe.

    BUT now i know :-)

    Thanks Arva!

  4. gingerandscotch says:

    I love the title of the post! BTW, I met a really nice lady who custom designs wedding gowns when I was in Mumbai (where she lives and works). Shame her business card is sitting on my dining table in Dubai which I won’t have access to until September!

  5. @FaridaA says:

    The pani puri was yummylicious!!! Its only a pity he made us eat that aloo chat or something before it :( Next time gol gappas will be devoured first!

  6. Nasreen says:

    Hi, I have just made the mistake of stumbling across your blog first thing in the morning on a day i am fasting. I have just been drooling all over my laptop and I blame you completely for it :-) And once Ramadan is over, please reserve a seat for me as well on that dining table.

    1. InaFryingPan says:

      @Didi – Indeed! Never again shalt thou be ignorant to the awesomeness of chaat! Head over to Bombay Chowpatty (which is good by Dubai standards, though nothing to rave about by Indian standards) and try some of their Papdi chaat. Then we speak ;)

      @gingerandscotch – thanks! wedding shopping never ends I think, right up until the day you get married and shipped off, so would be awesome if you could share the contact details of this designer lady when you hit Dubai.

      @FaridaA – right on sista! I know, that aloo cutlet thing upfront halved my appetite…scratching it off the menu next time.

      @Nasreen – hahaha…if it’s a sin to tease a pious fasting person with crunchy pani puri waterballoons, then I stand GUILTTAAAY *shame-faced* The dining table you see is in Hyderabad, but I will be organizing a pani puri run in Dubai soon, so will keep you posted [now that I know where your blog lives ;)…]

  7. Farheen says:

    Agreee to every word written up there…Shankar’s cooking is magical..! Drained out after a hectic day, Shankar’s piping hot daal and sabzi would bring the zing back into us…truly…! And yes ofcourse, thanks to you, I had requested Shankar for his famous Pani Pooris…and truly every bit and drop was devoured by all of us….absolutely yummy! :-)


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