It is damn embarrassing sometimes when your parent says it aloud- “Ye Paida Hi Khane ke Liye Hui Hai( born to eat).” I have nothing to contradict except rolling my eyes. This statement generally comes up when the word Golgappa, Paani Puri, Phuchka, Paani Batasha, Gupchup, Phuki, many even call it the soul-food. Did you drool, though? Great! Because genuinely a good dose of Pani Puri, for every Indian, is pure joy personified. I used to enjoy that joy when I was 6mnth old; I used to eat Puchka, and suck my mother’s arm for sweetness to balance my palate. Shocked! Even I was when my mom shared this story with me.
Still, there is something very consoling about eating a Phuchka – a crispy hollow ball made of semolina or wheat, filled with spicy potatoes and garnished with tangy tamarind water made from mint leaves and black salt. It may seem to be culinary chaos, but this spicy and crunchy wonder is absolutely delicious. It is something that almost the Indians will agree on. And the best part is that you will find them in all the narrow corners of the city, where the seller of Golgappa sells these small mouthfuls of delicious flavours.
During COVID-19, I missed the bustling markets and noisy main streets, also the familiar view of our famous Golgappewalas, surrounded by a crowd of enthusiastic customers. However, there’s nothing special about Panpuri. The word itself is a Pani combination (water, which in this case refers to diluted chutneys) and Puri (fried pastry discs). But the garnish of potatoes or chickpeas, the balance of masala a pinch more or less, the tamarind chutney and cilantro makes actual Pani Puri complete and perfect. Art is in the hands of the man who sells them. Damn true!
Although during this confinement, I saw many home cooks took it upon themselves to re-create some of the magic of Golgappa at home. Just to please Chaat pangs and also feel the freedom to be able to walk again in the streets. I’ve seen numerous people try a variant of Phuchka like Hot Cheese Batasha, A Paani Patasha Sorbet, even Pani Puri shots, with water or alcohol.
Besides Indore and Ahemdabad, introduced have these vending machines of Pani Patasha. I was shocked and delighted because someone was in charge of hygiene as well as carvings.
Though my own preference is to eat Pani Ke Bataashe in the streets which is both ritual and game, the cracking of the shell is the first feeling, its crackling a kind of alarm as it alerts the palate to the flavour waves that are about to hit like a tsunami-Tart, mild, & spicy. Both challenging and refreshing, Phuchka feels like an antidepressant. And the primary trick is to put the whole Golgappa into your mouth, without it bursting, and only the most experienced Golgappa enthusiasts can do it perfectly! This actually arouses cravings and nostalgia for eating as much as you can and beating your friends at it. One of the favourite competitions that every people would remember with a smile.
Generally, I call it Phuchka or Golgappa due to my Kolkata & North India cocktail bloodline. Because the truth is that the smell of Phuchka sets off my taste buds, then the temptation emerges to swallow them one after the other. Additionally, Instagram has a lot of crazy innovations, and yummies to offer, as well as boasting its almost perfect taste and sighing about missing.
I have come up with the weirdest question in these lockdowns- Like what is the origin of Golgappa, Gol Gappe, Phuchka, Pani Ka Pataasha, Gup Chup, Phulki, Pakodi is? Phew! Literally so many names of one snack. So I looked online; unfortunately, it has little to offer when it comes to the story of Phuchka. Somewhat like the notion of zero, or patriarchy, it is not clear who exactly should be given credit. Historically speaking, Pani Puri is regarded as the evolutionary by-product of Phulki, which originated in the ancient Kingdom of Magadha. It was at the same time, an explosion of various types of salty snacks or Farsan took place. But there is no written record of the maker.
However, there is an exciting equivalent link between Draupadi and Phuchka. Surprised! Even I was when I read that. We have Mahabharata and Golgappa, how does that connect? But it does, and history relates when the Pandavas were in exile, newly married, Draupadi was tested by his stepmother, Kunti. Kunti gave Draupadi the remains of a potato platter and wheat dough enough to make a small chapati and ensure that the five princes did not go hungry. And then Draupadi had the idea for Pani Puri. Kunti was stunned by Draupadi’s ingenuity and blessed the plate immortally. How convincing it sounds! But the blessing of mortality gave us the soul food to savour upon.
Lastly, to add a culinary anthropologist verdict too Dr Kurush Dalal. He suggested that Chaat ( modern Pani Puri) was created in the northern Indian region of Uttar Pradesh. Probably around the time of the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan at the end of the 17th century. Since then, the food has travelled a lot, adapting to the taste and traditions of different regions. Not surprisingly, it has so many names and variances. However, we remain unsure of the idea behind creating snacks. But we are well aware of the flavour we relish in all its forms.
Yeah, it’s true, I still stand like a kid with a paper bowl in my hand in front of my favourite PhuchkaWala. And impatiently waiting for my Phuchkas- the little flavour-filled bomb. And I connect my life with a Golgappa also, just like a Golgappa we need to fill our experience with the best waters.