Plate Lab, an elemental guide to what you’re eating: Pani puri offers ‘explosion of flavors’


(Greg Powers/For The Washington Post)
June 20

Indian-food lovers who would like to move beyond curries and naan might look to the country’s rich traditions of street snacks, especially pani puri, a delicate, tangy, sweet and crunchy mouthful that’s appearing on local menus.

“It’s like this explosion of flavors,” says vegan blogger Vaishali Honawar, who grew up in Mumbai and now lives in the District.

Pani is the Hindi word for water. Puri refers to fried, hollow bread. An eater uses her thumb to break open an egg-size puff of bread, fills it with a vegetable mix, tops it with a spoonful of chutney and, at the last minute, adds a splash of tamarind water (the pani). The entire thing is eaten in one bite, which is where the onomatopoeic Bengali word for the snack, phuchka, comes from.

The filling might contain sprouts (typical in Mumbai) or a mixture of chickpeas and potatoes. There are regional variations in the chutneys (mint or tamarind) or the water (tamarind-spiced, mint, lemon).

In the Washington region, you will usually find the chickpea-potato variety of pani puri at restaurants such as Woodlands (in Langley Park), Masala Art (Tenleytown), Tandoori Nights (Bethesda and Gaithersburg), and Heritage India (in Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and P Street, and where the snack goes by yet another name — golgappa.)


Pani Puri at Woodlands restaurant in Langley Park, Md. (Greg Powers/For The Washington Post)

A couple of tips: Whether the pani puri come pre-filled with veggies and chutney (at more Westernized restaurants), or whether you build your own, add the water at the last minute, to prevent sogginess. And it’s okay to drink the leftover pani, though you might get some odd looks.

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