Friday, January 06, 2006

Street Food: Pani Puri

A few days ago I was wandering the aisles of a South-Asian grocery store that just opened right across the street from my workplace, and my heart jumped when I saw a bag of fat little puris: time for some pani-puri! Here is a street food that is wildly popular all over India although it might be called by different names; gol-gappa in Northen India, puchka in Bengal, and pani-puri in Maharashtra. Pani-puri literally translates as "water-puri" which in itself does not sound too appetizing, but here is what it is. A firm semolina dough is rolled into little "puris" and deep fried into plump tiny hollow balls. You take one of these puris, press your thumb into one side (one side of the puri is always more fragile than the other, and a little experience will tell you which is which, so you can pierce the right side) to make a little opening, and then proceed to stuff the puri with one of several fillings. Then you ceremoniously dunk the puri into a spicy watery chutney and stuff the dripping puri into your mouth, where it explodes into a crispy-spicy treat. In most cases, it is fiery enough that tears spring to your eyes, and in that almost-masochistic moment you know that you are addicted to pani-puri.
OK then. The first requirement for a pani-puri session is good puris: perfectly puffy and crispy and intact balls. Although I have a recipes for making these at home, I find it easier to just buy the puris and then take it from there. The puris do have a long shelf-life in the store, but that often means that when you bring them home, they are just a tad stale-tasting and not quite crispy. That will utterly ruin the pani-puri experience, so here is a tip for freshening puris: Heat the oven to 300 degrees F. Place the puris on a baking sheet, not touching each other. Bake the puris for 5-7 minutes (they will sizzle slightly). Cool for 5 minutes, and voila, you have fresh-tasting, crisp puris.
No one eats pani-puri as a health food (unfortunately) but other than the fried puris, my recipe consists of good healthy eats: the stuffing is sprouts and bits of boiled potato, with an optional addition of whipped yogurt, and the chutney is made with fresh herbs and ginger. Ordinarily, one might make a whole array of different chutneys, one spicy, one sweet and so on. I simplified the process by making a single chutney that contains all the different flavor components.


You need
a) A packet of "pani-puri" puris (about 40-50)
b) For fillings:
1/4 cup whole lentils
1/4 cup whole "moong beans"
1/4 cup whole white peas (or any combination of whole dals)
1 cup plain yogurt
2 potatoes, boiled
c) For chutney:
1 and half cups packed fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup packed cilantro leaves
3-4 fresh green chillies
1 inch fresh ginger, peeled
1 tsp toasted cumin seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black salt
1 tsp chaat masala
2 tbsp jaggery powder (unrefined sugar)
1 tbsp tamarind paste
1 tbsp lemon juice
1. Prepare the fillings.
a) Cut the boiled potatoes into small cubes and set aside.
b) Add a pinch of salt and sugar to the yogurt. Whip the yogurt, spoon it into a bowl and set aside.
c) Combine the whole dals, soak overnight and sprout them for a day or two. Cook the sprouts till tender (stove-top or microwave). Mash them slightly and season with salt.
2. Make the chutney.
a) Combine 2 cups water and the jaggery in a saucepan. Bring to a boil so that the jaggery dissolves. Set aside to cool.
b) Grind together the mint, cilantro, chillies, ginger and cumin seeds to a fine paste. Add it to the jaggery water.
c) Add the rest of the chutney ingredients, mix together and taste to see if you like the balance of flavors. Adjust as necessary. Chill the chutney until ready to serve.

That is all the preparation one needs. Set everything out in bowls and people can make their own puris. Enjoy!


  1. नुपूर,

    'प' पुरणपोळ्यांचा! माझ्या बायकोनेही नुकत्याच पुरणपोळ्या केल्या होत्या. झकास झाल्या होत्या. ईथे एक चित्र आहे.

    त्याचीही रेसिपी जरुर लिहावी. विशेषतः भारताबाहेर मिळणारे सामान वापरुन!


  2. Nupur, thank u thank u thank u. Puchkas are my fav. street food and I've been wanting to make them at home but have always been scared incase they turn out horrid. (the fillings and the chutney). Will try your recipe *fingers crossed*

  3. Ahhhh... pani-puris eaten street-side, everybody holding their hand out to the pani-puri wala for the next one - yum! And Nupur... thanks for the tip on how to freshen up the puris - I hate that plasticky stale taste! :)

  4. Nupur, I too, dont like the store bought ones, because it tastes a bit stale. Thanks for the tip about freshening them.

    Your recipe sounds healthy. I ought to try it soemtime.

  5. now look what u did. Made me homesick. :)
    Mom makes these at home. The ones that puff up are had as pani puris and then ones that don't are had as papri chaat. Never took to streetfood cuz it was available at home. Am gonna have to make a trip soon. Till then I guess I'll look at your pani puri pics and suck it up .

  6. Hey Nupur, like the two in one sauce. Saves time. Btw my blog is up, do visit me sometime :-)

  7. Cathy, they really are an unusual snack!

    HI Mayuresh, your picture of puran-polis looks delicious!

    Hi Vee, I have my fingers crossed too....hope it works :)

    Hi Shammi, I have to confess that I have never once eaten pani-puris on the street (my parents absolutely forbade it for health reasons!)

    Hi Kay, let me know if it works !

    Bilbo...awww...just come and visit me and we shall make every chaat on the planet! My mom too made all street-food at home so thats where I got my fix.

    Hi Winie...thats great that you started to visit you soon!

  8. welll... any street food I had was always with friends and never disclosed to my mother - she would have been horrified ;) On the other hand, I'm alive, so I guess I must have assimilated the germs into my system!

  9. Nupur -

    Neat tip about freshening the puris in the oven. Will remember that when I make it next time. Puris are one of those things that should not melt-in-the-mouth.


  10. Lord, now I have cravings. I first had pani puri in Kolkata and they were so good I ate 4 at a go! Major yums.

  11. could you please post the recipe for your homemade puris.Would really appreciate it.

  12. Nupur,
    Thanks for this recipe. I love pani puris. Used to eat them every week in b'lore. I will try this one.
    My mom prepares pani puri in a different way. I will post that soon on my blog.

    Please post the recipe for puris also.


  13. hi nupur,

    Yogurt in pani puri!!!!!! No girl yogurt does not go in pani puri that would like totally ruin it. Unless you are making papdi chaat with the left overs but thats a whole different story

  14. Great web site...

    Every trip I made as a child to Inida was with 2 purposes.

    1. To eat as many Golgappa's as possible...every day.

    2. Of course to visit all my relatives and sightseeing.

    If you have not eaten a real authentic Golgappa from a steet vendor ...then you havn't lived.

    It's the number one thing to do when you visit India.

    Golgappa is to India what Pizza is to Italy!!!

  15. Nupur, these look fantastic! I found this post via Googling on "pani puri," as that's one of the dishes on the menu for a special Indian dinner that's being served on the Univ. of IL campus tonight. I wasn't familiar and wanted to find out what it was. I just found out about the dinner today, and am not sure whether I can make it or not, but I really want to go sample all the wonderful-sounding foods.

    Anyway—thanks to your post, I may work up the nerve to try making these sometime!

  16. I just made pani, just like you posted here. I like little bit of spicy stuff. I am going to have pani puri tomorrow. Will post how it turned out tomorrow.


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