Pani Puri (Puchka) – An Indian Snack Drowned in Flavor

By Mark Wiens 3 Comments
My pani puri vendor in Kolkata, India
My pani puri vendor in Kolkata, India

Does a wet chip sound good to you?

I’m guessing not.

But in Kolkata, India, they seriously know what they are doing when it comes to street food, and many vendors literally serve chips filled with water.

And they are incredibly delicious!

An easy to recognize vendor selling pani puri (puchka)
An easy to recognize vendor selling pani puri (puchka)

Pani puri (which is also known as a golgappa and is most commonly referred to as a puchka in Kolkata) is widely available as a street snack in India, and in other countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal.

It’s virtually impossible to miss a vendor selling puchka (pani puri) in Kolkata.

Their road-side stands are piled high with a mountain of deep fried dumpling looking things that are often set up in an upside down cone shaped sculpture (still not as cool looking as ghugni chaat).

At first I thought it might be a mobile toy store, selling little plastic toy bouncy balls, but when I saw people standing around the stall eating and smiling, I was delighted.

The crunchy puris
The crunchy puris

What is a Pani Puri (Puchka)?

The popular street snack all begins with something known as a puri – a deep fried crunchy piece of dough that’s hollow on the inside. It’s about the size of a golf ball and thin like a potato chip on all sides.

Pani is the Hindi word for water.

Together pani puri is the agglomeration of a hollow chip filled with water, and though it sounds bizarre (chips dipped in water), it’s such a marvelous combination, like so many Indian foods.

There are a number of different flavors of water that make a pani puri, but in the Indian state of West Bengal, the water for a puchka often includes tamarind juice.

The man who served me my first bite of Pani Puri!
The man who served me my first bite of Pani Puri!

Though it’s questionable as to the sanitary conditions and the source of water used at some pani puri stalls, I couldn’t resist such a prominently represented Kolkata street food snack while roaming around.

As soon as you walk up to a pani puri vendor you’re handed a tiny leaf bowl, a bowl that’s just big enough to hold a single puchka.

Filling the puri (hollow chip) with tamarind water
Filling the puri (hollow chip) with spiced tamarind water

The vendor then grabs a puri from his stockpile, pokes out a hole in the top with his thumb, pushes in a little dab of spiced potatoes and spices, dunks it into the container of room temperature tamarind water, and places it on your little leaf bowl.

This all happens in a mere second.

Kolkata style Pani Puri
Kolkata style Pani Puri (Puchka)

To eat a pani puri you simply plop the entire bite sized chip combination into your mouth.

Since the puri has only been in contact with the tamarind water for a few seconds before consumption, it remains crunchy, and not at all soggy.

As soon as you bite down, the puri immediately crushes and then liquid tamarind water gushes out with a burst of sourness and contrast of texture and flavor. Finally the smooth spicy and salty mashed potatoes mingle into the watery crunch to complete a mouthful of pani puri.

Literally as soon as you’ve chomped down on your first one, the vendor is ready to serve you another round.

In Kolkata, pani puris cost just 10 INR ($0.18) per 4 pieces.

Pani puri (puchka) is a street food snack unlike anything I’ve ever had anywhere else. Only in India is it such a wonderful idea to mix such contrasting ingredients (chips and water?) to form such a delicious snack.

One last thing about Pani Puri:

As I was scarfing down my fourth or fifth round of pani puri, an elderly Indian lady walked passed me politely saying, “don’t eat too many, you’ll get a tummy ache.”

Luckily, my food blogger bowels and tummy survived without any unusual symptoms. However, since street water is potentially a main ingredient in street side pani puri, they do have a reputation for causing stomach issues.

That being said, I loved eating pani puri in India!

If you missed the pani puri video, here it is…

Look good to you?