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.
CONGRATS BIG SIS!! WEEEE-HOOOOO!
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 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.
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 ;)