These snack cousins from across the country have brought people together for after-office snacks, quick meals, weekend outings and sometimes, for no reason at all. Crossing demographics, these puffed rice preparations are still the country’s favorite accompaniments for tea time.
Growing up, my mom was very particular about dining out. Random snacking was not allowed. Hygiene was a priority in our home. My health, of course, was also a priority in our household. So while the children flock Jhalmuri, Phuchka and all kinds of vendors outside the school, I walk, often with a long face, to the school bus. In Calcutta, the guys from Jhalmuri and Phuchka have solo racks on wheels, with a glass box filled with Phuchkas, lit by a single bulb. The assortment of plates and containers are said to contain a variety of ingredients, as well as a steel cauldron containing sweet and sour scented tamarind water. On local trains, Jhalmuri vendors took their entire setup with them, a sort of table with pocket-shaped counters for ingredients and chutneys, hung around their necks with a wide rope or strip of fabric. Each counter would have its own metal cover, which would hang from a string, making it look like a row of temple bells. I stared wide-eyed, for, when asked, the Jhalmuri man skillfully picked up a serving of puffed rice – or Muri, as it is called in the east of the country – from a steel dechki or cauldron. , helping out, picking up the correct amounts of each ingredient from each counter, giving it a strong mixture in the cauldron with a ladle, stuffing everything into a small paper bag or thonga, garnish with a little extra Chanachur (Farsan, Chivda, or, as Haldiram calls it, Indian snacks * eyeroll *) and a thick slice of coconut. The Jhalmuri preparation, to me at the time, was like ballet. It was so skillful, so choreographed, so well chosen, so little affected, but also so graceful and confident, I wanted to be able to do something as skillful as that. It’s just that the Jhalmuri men looked nothing like ballerinos, their thick, round rice bellies supporting the Jhalmuri portable table, sweat slipping down their foreheads in their damp masala and chutney-stained shirts, and their fingers darkened. by the filth of a difficult life.
Jhalmuri, literally translates to hot and spicy puffed rice. Hot-And-Spicy has always been an unhealthy code in my house. My mother has a terribly low heat threshold and has a morbid fear of green peppers. So although the Jhalmuri is not necessarily that “Jhaal“, I was never allowed to have it. But, on our annual trips to Pune, where my mother grew up, I saw her as excited as a little girl for Bhel Puri. I never understood why Jhalmuri was hated, but Bhel was loved so much. Also, surprise of surprises, I was allowed to have the Bhel Puri – in paper cones, with a papdi (small fried dough disc) spoon, at Saras Bagh or Laxmi Road. The Bhel Puri was not so “JhaalLike the Jhalmuri, my father explained. It wasn’t that bad, I guess.
These annual trips – and strictly controlled consumption – were not enough for me to explore Bhel Puri. So when I moved to Mumbai and resided at Marine Drive, Chowpatty was my playground. I had two plates of Bhel Puri on my first night out in Mumbai, only to realize it tasted like very different from my memories of Pune Bhel. Over time, and explorations, I realized that Bhel needed customization. I have also found that the Chowpatties – Girgaum and Juhu – suck on street food. I found a vendor in an alley near Nana Chowk who makes the best Bhel and Sev Puri in South Mumbai. Later I found a different person in Bandra. Today I swear by this guy outside my office in Lower Parel.
The men of Bhel Puri in Bombay place their wares on bamboo wicker racks, which look like two cones inverted on top of each other. They do not ride on trains with it, but are found in and around stations. They can be round too, they sweat too, their fingers are also dirty from the hard work, but I’m not affected by all of that now. A good Bhel Puri, crumpled with Farsan, peanuts, onions, tomatoes, sweet and spicy chutneys, nylon Sev, crushed Papdi, and raw mango shards, makes it a divine companion on blustery summer evenings. I have always placed my order with the instruction: “Meetha, teekha dono daalna. Zyaada meetha. Teekha bhi daalna, by kam thoda. Zyaada Sev upar se(Add both the sweet and chilli chutneys, sweeter. Add the chili chutney too, but less. Top with more Sev on top).
Pune Bhel tastes different because of the chutneys and Farsan. It’s sweeter, but also generously umami, and with a delicious balance of flavors. Mumbai Sukha The bhel (dry bhel) is not as tasty or popular as the geeli Bhel (Wet Bhel). Poona Sukha Bhel is a delicious munchie, and their geeli Bhel is not as humid (and often soggy) as the one in Bombay. The type of puffed rice used is also fatter, thicker, and holds up longer under the onslaught of chutneys and vigorous mixing. Jhalmuri, on the other hand, is mixed only with dry masalas and powders, bound with a pinch of mango mustard oil. I prefer the Jhalmuri to Sukha Bhel any day.
Today, Bhel has found grace, reinvention and respect in all strata of society. The Jhalmuri has been packaged in ready-to-eat packages and is imported all over the world. I remember seeing Jhalmuri (“Indian-style puffed rice appetizer with a mixture of hot spices” * eyeroll again *) on the menu of a fusion restaurant in London. Whether it’s Bhel Puri, Jhalmuri, or a staple with donuts and Telebhaaja (fried snacks) in the south and east, puffed rice is an integral part of India’s snacking behavior.
Also read: Secrets of the perfect kosha mangsho
Hi, I am Divya I am A Digital Marketer with 5+ years of experience in marketing on various platform. I love to write about technology and various blogs about Dermatology, Neurology, Urology and Giving Reviews about the best doctors in these industries.