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Friday, November 5, 2010

Puffs three times

In the past, Jell-O would advertise its products with pictures of these ornate multilayered colorful creations, ostensibly to show off the creative potential of artificially colored sweetened gelatin powder. But market research demonstrated that these ads didn't work because people would try to create the same things at home, and they got depressed when it didn't come out looking quite as good. Notice that nowadays, all they show are simple mounded up servings - because that's what people really do at home.

In general, when I go to a restaurant, I avoid looking for items that I can easily execute at home, I seek out that mythical ornate Jell-O creation that evades my home kitchen conveniences. Indian chaat snacks fall in this category easily; aside from requiring a large number of ingredients, cooking them involve multiple stages for the components to produce the range of flavors and textures.

To wit, the dahi puri.

At it's most basic, the dahi puri is based around a puri, a puffed up fried pastry shell, filled with any number of seasonal ingredients. Traditional additions are potatoes, tomatoes, chickpeas, onions, cilantro, sev, tamarind chutney, spicy green chutney and yogurt. Yes, all those things. But when presented with all these components, there are several permutations to them.

I went to explore dahi puri at different local restaurants. First up, local vegetarian favorite Shri Balaji Bhavan.

Presented on a stainless steel platter, the dahi puri here is a merry mess of crisps, spice, and yogurt. Barely manageable for eating with bare hands, it's homey in it's chaos, and shareable only with others you are intimate enough with.

Over at Bombay Sweets, the dahi puri acquire some individuality.

The tamarind chutney here is quite a bit sweeter than most places, and an almost shocking red color. And despite being presented on a disposable plate, the snack remains satisfying. I'm not a fan of putting yogurt on top of the sev, as it makes it soggy, but it's a minor quibble.

However, the artistry is evident over at Sweet n Namkin.

Beautifully assembled individual bites, this is India's answer to the nigiri. The puri shells here are strong, lasting minutes longer than the others, and you can happily present these as party hors d'oeuvres.

And watch people giggle happily as the riot of textures and flavors explode in their mouths, with something a little too big to fit in one bite, but can't be eaten in two.

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