A Basket Of Pani Puri Has Moved In With Malaika
Image Credit: Malaika Arora

"Weekend done right" is a phrase you would have all seen a lot of over, well, the weekend on Instagram. It’s mostly pictures of what you would do any other day of the week anyway, but people say it. People say things. This is what they do. Malaika Arora had some pani puri over the weekend. Mallika Bhat, a make-up artist, sent a basket of pani puri over to Malaika’s place that she has recently moved into. Now, that is actually a weekend done right. Not the eating of pani puri, but sending a basket of it to someone else. Because when you share something you would never want to share, it means you must care. For there is no other explanation. It reaffirms our collective faith in the idea that there is still some kindness that sloshes in the veins of some people in the world still, and that kids, we will be alright after all.  

Inspired by her, some of us set out Sunday evening to score our own pani puri. Or golgappa. Or phuchka. Or Paani ka Batasha. Or Patasha. Or gupchup. Or Phulki. Or <insert whatever name you call it wherever you come from>. What’s in a name, and all that? A pani puri called by any other name would taste just as good—or maybe not. There are far too many debates on Twitter about which region makes the best pani puri. And much like those debates that happen around which place has the best dosa in Bangalore, they are tedious, exhausting, and take the joy out of eating because, please, let’s at least leave food, life-affirming food, out of our endless rank-making. JEE kaafinahihainkya?  

Anyway. We were eating pani puri. From Elco, if you must know. And we couldn’t help but wonder where this deliciousness came from. This sweet, sour, spicy, crunchy, refreshing bomb of layered goodness. Immediately, we thought it must be the Vedas and Puranas, because, you know. And then we started reading. And guess what? One story says it’s from the Mahabharata! So close. Let’s retell that story. Draupadi, the wife of the five Pandavas, was tasked by her mother-in-law with coming up with this dish while they were all in exile. Kunti gave some leftover aloo sabzi and just enough dough to make one roti, and she instructed her daughter-in-law to feed all her sons after they came back from doing whatever it is one does in exile. That's rude. Couldn’t she help? It’s not like she had a kitty party to go to in the middle of a forest. Anyway, Draupadi created this dish, and the rest is legend.

In any case, pani puri may have evolved in Magadh, which corresponds to today’s Bihar, which is also where Draupadi is said to have come from—she was the princess of Mithila. Culinary history can’t really pinpoint the creators of dishes, but there is reason to believe that the dish we love and enjoy may have evolved there. People moved around, and so did pani puri. You can’t keep a good story hidden.

Since then, the pani puri has had several iterations. At its most basic, it is, as you know, a hollow puri filled with something solid and dunked in spiced water. Now the something solid could be aloo, boondi, sprouts, or whatever catches your fancy. The spiced water, at its most basic, is a sort of jaljeera. But then, you and I have been to enough weddings to know it could be spiked with anything from vodka to gin to tequila. Pani puri is your canvas; make what art you will, you maverick artiste.

For the Mumbai folk among us, here is a list of places to go get some. After all, hum to Malaika nahinhain, jo Mallika humeinpani puri khilaayein. Here are seven places in the city of seven islands:

1.    Elco, Bandra West

2.    Punjab Sweet House, Bandra West

3.    Sindh Pani Puri, Chembur

4.    Kailash Parbat, Colaba

5.    Chandru’s, Andheri West

6.    Soam, Babulnath

7.    Natraj Pani Puri, Churchgate