A Take on Pani-Puri
A gastronomic delight that leaves you drooling
Save the PaniPuri. Save it from sophistication and hygiene. From getting served in sealed packs with a spoon to fill up the spicy syrup into the puffed puris. These DIY Panipuris are a travesty of tradition! It is like butchering the Japanese tea ceremony. Eating Panipuri or Golgappe as it is called in the Indo Gangetic plains is a collective, synchronous act. Requires relaxed alertness. Eating alone is like attending your convocation online. You get the degree while still in pyjama and miss out collective joy. Or it is like one cilium beating in the windpipe. The spirit is lost. And what a loss!
Wikipedia page on Panipuri says, and I don’t believe this, that this slurpy snack exists since the Mahabharata times. Someone has pulled a fast one, though Kauravas slurping Panipuri may shift their collective impression on the Indian psyche. Imagine Dushasana asking for more mint chutney, Dhritrashtra nudging him to try the tamarind flavour.
The guy who invented this must have been inspired by the Rutherford ‘s model of atom which is mostly empty space. The empty space in this delectable snack is occupied by spicy water which is its soul. A soul which is a smorgasbord of conflicting, coexisting, different flavours. Panipuri is thus a delicious lesson in inclusivity. Perhaps the only dish to be served bite by bite. It is like a performance. The server is not an ordinary server…he keeps count of the panipuris gulped by each member of the group. He is quick to adjust flavour of which he gets immediate feedback. Who knows an MRI scan might reveal a larger hippocampus in their brains just like those of the London cabbies.
This devilish treat is tastiest when eaten as street food. I am confidently suspicious that an undiscovered bacterium thrives in the soul of Panipuri. It gives it the flavour that an upscale restaurant misses and tries to compensate by making hygiene its USP. One day in the future they will tell you that a bacterium found in the tamarind and mint water is what lends Panipuri its luscious flavour.
Some podcasters of Indian origin will add that this microbe is responsible for the robust Indian gut and how invitro studies show that its live culture can provide immunity against the new lurking pathogens that are waiting to usher in another pandemic. Patents will be filed and an association of progressive Panipuri vendors will fight it with the support of a certain Baba who believes modern medicine to be the root of all evils.
The stereotype that depicts women eating Panipuri and gasping with excitement as the concoction conquers their mindfulness causing them to become gluttonous Panipuri gulping machines is overused by stand-up comics. This has a clear misogynistic origin. It appeals to men who imagine women to be eternally cheerful and mostly frivolous. Such men have trouble truly enjoying this dish. They suppress an involuntary poppysmic delight induced by each bite. This suppression causes them to become awkward and later angry. May be watching a man eat Panipuri can be a barometer of his hidden persona. Also, there should be world Panipuri day. A day that not just celebrates differences but also desires and savours them as a lip-smacking necessity.
Richa Joshi Pant is a teacher in Welham Girls’ School, Dehradun (India)