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The puri is the most important part of Golgappas

 Can you think of one Indian dish that you can eat on the streets, and also at fancy, Michelin-starred Indian restaurants all over the world?

And it is delicious, no matter where you eat it?


The answer is, of course, the golgappa.
It is a street food dish that pops up all over India (at least, north of the Vindhyas) in different guises. They call it golgappa in Delhi. In Mumbai, it is called pani puri. In Kolkata, it is the phuchka. In parts of UP (where it may have originated), it is the batasha.
   Most well-known Indian chefs have done interesting variations on the original. In London, Vineet Bhatia and Atul Kochhar brought it to fame (though the Bombay Brasserie had already put Mumbai chaat on the menu). In Mumbai, Hemant Oberoi invented the vodka golgappa. And in Delhi, Manish Mehrotra made it a staple of modern Indian cooking when he started serving different kinds of pani in shot glasses with plump little puris balanced on them.
   I have seen caviar golgappas on menus, and many chefs pack the puris with fish, oysters and non-vegetarian fillings that would astonish street vendors.
   In all the fuss, foodies rarely discuss the puri: The most important part of the dish. When we say that a golgappa from a guy in Delhi’s Sundar Nagar market is better than one from a guy in say, Chandni Chowk, we discuss the pani and the fillings (if any). In fact, the difference in taste may be entirely down to the puri itself.
   Any phuchka fan will tell you that there are two kinds of puri: Sooji or atta. Sooji is semolina, also called rava or durum, because it is longer lasting than normal wheat. Traditionally, the puri was always made with whole-wheat (atta), though in recent years, some people have used maida (refined wheat flour). You can also use a mixture of sooji and atta.
   Manish Mehrotra was the first to alert me to the fact that many restaurants buy puris in bulk. Suppliers nearly always prefer sooji because it lasts longer.
"It is not about sooji or atta or about outsourced or made in-house. It is about quality. I don’t really care who made it. I care only about how good it tastes."
   Sooji has another advantage. It makes for a puri with a thicker crust, meaning it takes longer for the pani to break through and leak out. And it offers a more substantial crunch.
   Purists will scoff at the sooji puri. They will say that a golgappa is best enjoyed on the streets. The golgappa-walla makes it fresh, serves it to you immediately and you pop it into your mouth at once. Hesitate for even a few seconds and the pani will break through and the golgappa will collapse. Vikramjeet Roy, the Kolkata-born chef, argues that the joy of eating a phuchka lies in biting down on it just as it is ready to collapse. In Kolkata, he says, discerning foodies always ask for atta puris because they believe that a phuchka must be a delicate and evanescent pleasure.
   He is probably right. But with gourmet golgappas, stuffed with lobster or caviar and then brought to the table, the atta puri does not stand a chance. You have to rely on sooji.
   That comes with its own set of problems. Manish has a low opinion of many of the packed puris. In Kolkata, Vijay Malhotra, chef at the ITC Royal Bengal, says that they're rarely consistent. His hotel serves the largest number of phuchkas of any in India. The chaat counter is the most popular section of his buffet. He has decided to make his own puris. So has Rajdeep Kapoor, chef at the ITC Maurya.
   This sounds fine in theory. But what happens to the chaatwalla who is struggling to make ends meet? Isn’t he better off buying the puris from an expert? From somebody who specialises in them?
   What about a halfway-house solution? You can get ready-to-fry puris that swell up in hot oil and become perfectly spherical.
   Because we pay so little attention to puris, we rarely ask ourselves these questions. Instead, we work on the assumption that chaatwallas make everything themselves. And indeed, that is an integral part of the romantic image of the chaatwalla. Most people to whom I have pointed out that more chaatwallas are outsourcing puris act as if this is sacrilege. Is it really?
   I spoke to Pinky Dixit who runs Mumbai’s wonderful Soam. She says there is a clear distinction between the lighter puris that places like hers serve and the denser puris preferred by places like Bandra’s famous Elco. Her puris are a mix of sooji and atta and are made in-house. But Pinky sees nothing wrong in outsourcing the preparation of the ingredients in her chaat.
   I am on Pinky’s side. It is not about sooji or atta (though I am an atta guy) or about outsourced or made in-house. It is about quality. I don’t really care who made it. I care only about how good it tastes.


  • Natalie Portman 17 May 2023

    I love the ways the author highlights the variations and adaptations of golgappa by renowned chefs, incorporating ingredients like caviar, fish, and oysters to elevate its flavors. build now gg

Posted On: 27 Jan 2023 07:30 PM
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