Aiming for gol
We scour the land of pani puri for three joints that sell Kolkata-style puchkas to find out which one you should try
There was a bit of confusion when a mid-day photographer went for one of the shoots for this puchka shootout. He called us from the stall and asked us, "Haan bhai, toh yeh pani puri ke kya shots lene hai?" We replied, "Sameerji, woh pani puri nahin, puchka hai."
"Puchka? Mere ko toh yahan sirf pani puri dikh rahi hai."
"Kalkatta mein panipuri ko puchka bolte hain."
"Theek hai, jo bhi ho. Yeh bolo, yeh Kalkatta wali pani puri ka kya shot lena hai?"
That's pretty much the point where we gave up trying to explain things further. But let's clear things up here in case you, dear reader, suffer from the same confusion. You see, they might look alike, but a pani puri is not a puchka. The difference is in fact, similar to that between a meetha paan and one with zarda. It's only the outer covering of the betel leaf that's the same. Otherwise, the filling inside makes the two products as different from each other as, say, E.T. was from Koi… Mil Gaya.
But what are these two disparate fillings? Pani puri, of course, normally has ragda in it (which incidentally is called ghugni in Kolkata). Puchka, on the other hand, has a more complex stuffing of mashed potatoes spiced with red chilli powder, rock salt, ground jeera, coriander leaves and boiled Bengal gram, with chopped green chillies added to the mix if you prefer it even more teekha.
Then there's the crucial difference in the water. While the pani in the Mumbai version is green in colour from the heavy addition of mint leaves, green chillies and coriander, the liquid in puchka is brown thanks to tamarind being the predominant ingredient, which also gives it a tangy punch that's lacking in its western cousin.
So, there you have it. A pani puri, we repeat, is not a puchka. But there are only a handful of places in the city that serve the latter. We scouted for three such eateries. Read on to find out which one came out on top, which made the grade, and which missed the mark.
Hitting the spot
There's a chain of eateries in Kolkata called Gangaur Sweets that is wildly popular. But its homonym, Shree Gangour Sweets in Juhu, is a different franchise. Yet, they sell Kolkata goodies like sandesh, jhal muri and, yes, also puchka. We pay the spot a visit on a Wednesday night to find it packed with patrons. And after picking up a coupon from the cash register, we head to the puchka stall to find out if it's the real McCoy.
The signs, thankfully, are positive from the get go. The person manning the stall makes the filling with all the requisite ingredients we had listed earlier. He then scoops in the brown water into a fried flour ball that is so big that we have to imitate a yawning hippopotamus to stuff it in our mouth. But one bite and memories of all the familiar evening outings in Kolkata when we'd devour 10 to 15 puchkas in one go come flooding back. Simply put, this puchka is as close as Mumbaikars will get to the authentic one.
At Juhu Supreme Shopping Centre, Gulmohar Cross Road, Juhu.
Time 11 am to 10 pm
Cost Rs 58 for five
Ambience: This stall is in one corner of a buzzing eatery.
Taste test: It's a puchka that even
Kolkata vendors would be proud of.
Far from home
Next up, we head round the corner from Shree Gangour Sweets to Gupta Chat Corner. It's a roadside stall that gives us the real feel of having puchkas in Kolkata, since it's essentially a street snack there. But watching the filling being made makes us raise our eyebrows. Where is the boiled Bengal gram? Where is the red chilli powder?
What about the rock salt? The greenish-brown colour of the pani increases our scepticism. And the first "puchka" itself confirms our fears. This is a hybrid product at best. For, it's got the trappings of a puchka but the soul of a pani puri. So, we don't bother with a second one, make up an excuse so as not to hurt the sentiments of the seller, and make our way to the third outlet with still enough space in our stomach.
At Vidyanidhi Marg, MHADA Colony, Gulmohar Road, Juhu.
Time 3 pm to 10 pm
Cost RS 25 for six
Ambience: A roadside stall that gets quite a few customers.
Taste test: It barely passes off as a Kolkata puchka.
Close to the mark
Does Via Calcutta live up to its name? That's the question on our mind while travelling to this Lokhandwala outlet (as an aside, is the fact that all these three outlets are in and around Andheri reflect the large Bengali population in the suburb?). Located at one end of the market in the neighbourhood, the joint sells a range of dishes typical to the eastern city, such as kochuri-aloor dum and even roshogolla. We, though, are concerned only with the puchka.
Will it match up to the one at Gangour? Or will our experience be dull like it was at Gupta Chat Corner? The answer, it turns out, lies somewhere in the middle. The place does get pass marks, but it falls just short of first division. For, even though the filling has the desired spice level, the water isn't adequately tangy. Nonetheless, in the land of pani puri, we would still recommend it to someone who is looking for a taste of Kolkata.
At Shop 12, Greenfield CHSL, Lokhandwala Complex, Oshiwara, Andheri West.
Time 3 pm to 11 pm
Cost Rs 70 for six
Ambience: A stand-and-eat joint for not just the puchka, but everything else as well.
Taste test: It's almost as good as a real puchka.
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