Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pani Puri

Saras Baug is quite possibly the biggest garden in Pune City. Together with the temple, the sad excuse for a zoo that is Peshwe Park and the open ground that is used for firework sales as well as India’s biggest classical music festival Savai Gandharva, Saras Baug could have it’s own pin code. My favourite part of Saras Baug is the Ganesh temple part. Situated on a small hillock and surrounded by an artificial moat it houses the beautiful Saras Baug temple at the summit. The moat is surrounded by hundreds of acres of lush green lawns and unimpressive yet charming topiary. When I used to go to Saras Baug for Chaturthi with my mother, I would notice many young couples taking care of business behind the trees. I guess it’s hard to ‘get a room’ when you’re living as a joint family in a tiny one bedroom flat. It was pretty amazing how everyone pretty much ignored the cuddling and fondling couples. The couples returned the favour by pretending no one else existed. Especially giggling, unsupervised brats. Children could waste hours feeding the guppies in the moats or trying to get extra Prasad from the priest. My other favourite part of Saras Baug were the chat vendors and no visit could be complete without begging your parents to take you for some good old pani puri or bhel. A pro knows to casually mention about it while entering the park. Nothing can be achieved if you ignore this little fact and start on the way out. You’ll be dragged straight to the car. The chat area is a long quarter mile stretch filled with chat, pav bhaji and milkshake vendors. It also included such breakthrough entertainment as shooting balloons with pellet guns. Actually, that was pretty much it. Everyone has a chat vendor they’re loyal to and ours was a stall by the name of Poonam Bhel. Complete with chipped plates, aluminium spoons, outdated movie calendars and turbid water that came through a tulshibaug style bucket with a tap, best used only for washing hands. I have never really had Pani Puri that stood above the rest, but eating it on that street brought it’s own flavour. As a returning emigrant, I probably will never dare to eat there on my short, infrequent visits. The memories however will serve me for the rest of my life.

1 pack Puris (available at any Indian store)
1 can Chickpeas
1/2 tsp Turmeric

For Pani Puri Water
2 tsp Tamarind paste
2 tsp Date paste
1” piece of Jaggery (1 tsp sugar if you can’t find Jaggery)
4 cups Water
4 tbsp finely chopped Cilantro
4 tbsp finely chopped Mint
1 tsp Cumin powder
1/2 tsp finely chopped Green Chili
Salt to taste (you can use Shendelon-Pandelon if you have it instead)

Heat a pot and cook the Chickpeas in 1/2 cup water with turmeric till all the water is gone.
Place aside
For the Pani Puri Water, heat the water and when it is warm add all the ingredients.
Turn off heat immediately. Do not cook.
Churn the Pani in a blender when it is cool.

To make the Pani Puri, take 5 Puris in a dish and poke a large hole on one side
Fill the Puri with a couple of chickpeas
And fill it with a little bit of Pani Puri Water.
Eat the whole puri.
When serving, serve Puris filled with chickpeas and Pani in a bowl.