Happy New Year. I cannot claim anything but laziness with regards to this blog and yet, of course, there have been many things I have wanted to share.
N and I went to India in November and tackled my family's home city of Calcutta (it's not a place one can tackle really--it pulverizes you instantly), the picturesque little town of Darjeeling where my father spent happy school days, and further afield. Needless to say, culinary delights were plentiful and for the record, we never ate anything bad, perhaps just slightly dumbed down for the unaccustomed palate, but that can't be such a sin, now can it?
I had rhapsodized at length to N about a certain pan Indian snack food holy grail known regionally by differing names, but the pitfalls of tracking down and rapidly consuming the pani puri/ gol guppa/ phuchka are many for those of us who have desi blood, but lack the helpful flora in our guts to tackle this street food icon.
But to give credit where credit is due, NRI moms have made these at home and ... Ah the tableau of the Indian diaspora with groups of children clad in Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger turn their noses up at the recreated street food of our mothers' Calcutta youths in a sanitized suburban kitchens with its light almond colored counters stretching out for miles. Quick, someone page Jhumpa Lahiri!
Let's get down to brass tacks. Miniature puris or bread rounds are fried stiff-- almost fossilized--they must be able to hold their shape, travel and withstand finger poking. Am guessing that there is more wheat flour in the dough than the traditional half atta and half moida of our lucchis but I would have to verify with HQ. And HQ, while they will give up their recipes and explain their techniques, gets a quiet chuckle when they think about your ass trying to make any of it. Anyway that's the first component--the Indian equivalent of silver dollar pancakes.
Second is the mash--spiced mashed potatoes laced with chili and coriander, perhaps onion, definitely cumin. You take a little bread and poke a whole in it and stuff some mash inside.
This is the part that requires deftness and agility: I admit stuffing the whole thing in your mouth at this point would taste good but Indian food, let's face it, is all about upping the ante. And upping it some more. Hence the small dish of tamarind water as the finishing touch: spoon some liquid which will be partially absorbed by the potato but quickly start to compromise the structural integrity of the fried bread shell and the whole package will need to be shoved quickly in the mouth.
The ensuing crunchy, sour, sharp, hot, soft amalgam is enough to bring tears to the eyes. The good kind. Luckily a serving is about 5- 8. Note kindly: the above photo taken at Haldiram's in Calcutta features a hygenically sealed packet of phuchkas and an extra dish of something I guess was coriander water. I know it's heresy not to eat them on the roadside, but my readers know that what I lack in Indian authenticity, I make up for in other ways. Satire and spot on impersonations, perhaps?