My all-time favourite food, Pani Puri (Or Golgappa) is rather unflatteringly referred to as ‘cold mint water in a dough shell’ by a close friend. It is technically correct, but the hit of spiced water (pani just means water) with the creaminess of mashed potato, a bit of sour tamarind chutney and the mildness of chickpeas, all stuffed into a crispy shell gets my mouth watering every time. I’m almost tempted to stop writing this now and go on a hunt!
Visits to family in India were always celebrated with the wider family sitting down to a Pani-puri binge and competitions were had to see who could put away the most (That was me, but that shouldn’t shock you, you’re well aware of my gluttonous ways). Unfortunately, trips to the local street vendors were strictly off limits, what with Delhi-belly and I being on rather intimate terms. Strict rules were put in place to counter this, but since it didn’t make much difference anyway, I should have just rebelled and scoffed away.
So it’s never a hard sell to convince me to go to an Indian restaurant specialising in Street food and since I’ve had a hankering for Pani Puri and been hearing good things about Roti Chai, we pay them a bit of a visit. They have two menus, each served on a different floor and it was a pretty easy decision for me to pick the Street Kitchen menu.
The decor is fun and relaxed, canteen style seating, intentionally kitsch Bollywood posters line the walls (Very reminiscent of Dishoom) with exposed warehouse style walls.
We’re not really sure how hungry we are, so we opt for a medley, which is the way you’re supposed to do these things anyway and first to arrive is the Pani puri. Yippee. Oh this is just how I remember it, they’ve not been stingy with the water, the shells are crispy still and haven’t yet gone stale like so many and there’s a healthy level of filling.
One day, I want to find a restaurant that lets you get stuck in and do the filling and dunking for yourself, but till that day comes, I’ll have to rely on the civilised London version of having pani puri.
Next up, Bhel Puri. I’m less enamoured with this one, despite it being another favourite of mine (and something I was allowed to have from street vendors) as it’s basically rice krispies with toppings. There wasn’t the hit to it that you should be getting, everything had been toned down – not enough lemon, onion, not enough kick. Something was missing and I think it was boldness.
I’ve never managed to convince the Husband to appreciate Dhokla – essentially a savoury sponge with dessicated coconut, so spongey it’s almost wet. This one is so good he eats all of his and even threatens a spoonful of mine – normally I’d be pleased he’s embracing this dish, but this time I’m just annoyed that he’s eating my bit!
The banana masala chips could probably be tracked down in a grocery store in Wembley, should I venture there to look but this is a snack that I’m more than happy to buy here!
Finally, we opt for some Hakka Chilli Paneer. There isn’t even the vaguest hint of chilli in this dish and it’s a tad oily, but the flavours are still coming through strong. Indo-Chinese cuisine is big in the motherland – my parents tell an amusing story where on their first trip to Asia, they tried to order ‘Manchurian chicken’ believing it to be a traditional Chinese dish, only to be met with bemused confusion.
There’s even a restaurant, Dalchini, in Wimbledon that caters to this cuisine. And what do you know, they serve Manchurian Chicken.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the individual components of our meal, but the sum doesn’t add up to larger than the parts for me, there isn’t an experience to be had, the service is perfectly bland but there isn’t the oomph, the wow factor, the heat searing my tongue to make this place memorable and begging me to come back.
But I’ll be back for a Pani Puri hit. Maybe after a naughty sojourn to nearby Selfridges and then I won’t have to share. That’ll be a perfect day.