Indian chat is one of the best street foods you’ll find in India. The tiny stalls scattered hither tither on the long, narrow streets provide mankind the exquisite gift of wholesome shev puris, ragda pattice, Dahi puri, and of course, pani puri. There isn’t a single soul in India who hasn’t tried the dish and who isn’t in love with the miracle that is Pani Puri. As a child, I remember my friends and me indulging a luscious plate of Pani Puri right after school got over. What happy days were those! Undoubtedly, Pani puris have played an active role in making every Indian child’s childhood beautiful. Trust me, there isn’t any greater bliss and thrill in life than to thrust puri after puri in our mouth as the vendor keeps on making new ones at lightning speed. Today, even after having this mouth-watering dish for several years, we avidly tag along with our friends to our nearest pani puri stalls. And why not? This dish, my friend, is evergreen.
Pani Puri, also referred to as Golgappa or Puchka is one of the most common foods found in India. Other than India, this dish is extremely popular in our neighboring countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal as well. Indian street food resonates with Pani Puri. The dish comprises a deep-fried, ball-shaped flatbread known as puri, which is further enhanced by adding imli (tamarind) chutney, chat masala, potato mash, and onion. In some parts of India, Boondi is added to the dish instead of mashed potatoes. According to sources, apart from Samosas, Pani Puri is the West’s most well-known Indian street food. This is further elevated by the fact that the word ‘Pani Puri’ was included in the Oxford English Dictionary in the year 2005. As it deserves to be.
Now, even though pani puri is regarded as the ‘King of Chat’, it is somewhat dismal that there isn’t any solid evidence that suggests how Pani Puri came to be invented. However, fortunately, unlike the many mysteries of this world, a few uncertain theories are revolving around the question, ‘Who invented Pani Puri?’Who invented Pani Puri?’. Wouldn’t you like to know?
The first and foremost theory goes back to the time of one of our all-time classics, Mahabharata. According to popular legends, after having undergone massive losses in the infamous game of dice between Shakuni and Yudhistra, the five Pandavas, Draupadi (their wife), and Kunti had to retire for a 13 year-long exile. One day during the exile, Kunti gave Draupadi some dough and a small amount of aloo sabzi, she then asked Draupadi to prepare a dish from the limited resources which would quench the hunger of all five brothers. This was when Draupadi used her intellect and prepared Pani Puri. Kunti, pleased with her daughter-in-law’s efficiency, declared that the dish would remain immortal and ever-present in the history of India. While the reasons as to why Kunti asked Draupadi to do the said task remain a secret, some speculations suggest that it was a ruse to identify if she qualified as a good homemaker, while others claim that it was to test if Draupadi would favor one brother over the other. Well, you won this one, Panchali!
Another possible theory contributing to our subject of discussion states that Pani Puri was originated in the erstwhile kingdom of Magadha. Magadha (present-day Bihar) was one of the most important Mahajanpadas of India. It is reported that a dish almost exactly similar to that of Pani Puri was found to be consumed in Magadha. This dish was termed as ‘Phulki’, and differed from our beloved Pani Puri as it was made with smaller puris and these puris were made from Raj Kachori, moreover, it was filled with some unknown form of aloo sabzi. While we know that Pani Puri may have been invented in Magadha, we do not know who exactly we need to thank for discovering this masterpiece.
The last and probably the strangest theory says that Pani Puri was invented in Lucknow. One day, the Nawab Wajid of Lucknow was suffering from a terribly upset stomach. However, the nawab being a nawab, refused to take any medicine to relieve his distress. Worried by the Nawab’s behavior and declining health, a certain someone came up with a plan – they decided to insert the medicine in small balls of crepe along with some spices. And voila! Le Pani Puri!
No matter how ridiculous and hard to digest (no different from our beloved Pani Puri!) these theories may seem to be, they do provide a fun-filled twist to the already tangy dish of Pani Puri. We are waiting impatiently for this pandemic to end. We need to see the face of our regular Pani Puri wala as he dips those puris into the sweet chutney! Needless to say, whether you like your Pani Puri with aloo or bundi, hot or cold, sweet or spicy; it doesn’t matter. Sometimes we resonate oh so clearly with an immobile object than with a real person, and on top of that, the flavorsome dish of Pani Puri already has an irreplaceable part in our hearts. And to the unknown creator of Pani Puri, I think I speak for every Indian out there when I say – good job!