Pani Puri are a really fun Indian street food. Prepared by frying a bite-sized unleavened bread (the puri) until puffed and crisp, punching a hole in the top and filling with a selection of fillings such as onion, chickpeas, potato, chilli, but vitally flavoured water (the pani). I’m reliably informed that when eaten in the market in India, you queue with others, so the vendor can rack up the snacks for each customer, filling them with the liquid and passing them one-by-one to each. The reason this is important is that the water quickly soaks into the crisp shell, undermining its integrity, and if you’re not careful you’re soon facing a disastrous collapse!
“You don’t often see pani puri on your typical Indian restaurant menu, but I now seek them out”
At Sakonis, they serve the dish with everything already inside the shells except for the tamarind chutney and flavoured water, so you can pour these in yourself and pop each into your mouth while still crisp. The wonderful effect of the dish is that the shell bursts and you get a blast of flavour and texture. We’re required to guess at the liquid proportions necessary, but experimentation revealed a wide scope for forgiving variation, and each one we tried delivered its delicious surprise successfully.
So is there anything more to pani puri (and this example in particular) that is more than a cheap trick? The answer is definitely yes. The combination of crisp shell, crunchy onion, potato and chickpeas for ‘bite’, chilli, spices, tamarind for sour, and sweet, tangy water makes for a combination of flavours and textures that mean after the initial fireworks you get real depth and variety.
Sakonis is a real dive (in a good way as much as bad) – and I’d love to come back for their buffet; not that their cheap menu and generous portions don’t mean you can have a feast even ordering a la carte! I haven’t eaten the dish often enough to judge, but this seems a pretty brilliant rendition to me – and if someone questioned its authenticity, I’d probably suggest the real deal wouldn’t do too badly to imitate these! You don’t often see pani puri on your typical Indian restaurant menu, but I now seek them out.