City Food – Papdi Chaat, Around Town
Spheres of delight.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
In a time when divisive leaders such as Donald Trump become mainstream politicians and the idea of a multi-religious, multi-racial society seems like a nightmare to many people, one option for a lonely cosmopolitan liberal soul is to draw comfort from food.
If Delhi were to be a city of a single faith and culture, it would be as dry as papdi, the almost bland, deep-fried, round maida wafers. But souse them with cold whipped yogurt, deep brown tamarind chutney and piquant, green coriander-mint chutney, and the papdis become as cosmopolitan as the city.
They take in the flavours of the garnishes without losing their own; the new taste hints of each of the ingredients, yet is distinct.
The papdi chaat of Bengali Pastry Shop and Snack Bar in Central Delhi’s Bengali Market comes topped with ginger julienne. Pink pomegranate seeds sparkle in the yogurt-chutney mix, under which lie the golden-brown papdis and chickpeas. The boiled diced potatoes are barely noticed till your spoon starts digging into the mess. You may find similar presentations on the chaat carts stationed at dozens of alleys off the main avenue in Chandni Chowk.
The papdi crackles under your teeth, the yogurt smudges your lips and the green chutney sets fire to your throat. Relief follows with the pieces of potato. Its relative blandness is welcoming; its softness an antidote to the papdi’s teasing toughness. But before the potato is swallowed down, the senses starts to crave for the crisp wafers, which retain their brittleness despite being soaked by the yogurt.
The papdi is not so small enough to fit into an average-sized mouth, yet you want to eat it in one go. You open your mouth wide open and somehow pop it in. Again that crunchiness and sourness assaults you, and then it is the potato’s turn to soothe. The cycle continues till the plate is empty.
Sweet and sour, crisp and soft