ISLAMABAD: Bhel puri is one of the most popular street foods in Pakistan and India. The snack, which is low in fat and nutritious at the same time, is the perfect bite to eat during a break from shopping in the busy lanes of a bazaar, or in malls like Safa Gold Mall or Centaurus.
Whether you’re having it at a stall in F-7 Markaz, at Pizza Kone in Centaurus or having it delivered from Lahore Chatkhaara in E-11, bhel puri comes in hearty portions; enough to fill you up, but light enough not to slow down your day.
Your bhel puri vendor will first line the serving dish with thickly diced boiled potatoes dusted with chaat masala. A layer of puffed rice – made by heating rice kernels under high pressure – is then sprinkled over the top. The rice is then blanketed in sev – thin, crisply noodles made from gram flour.
Then comes a generous helping of boiled chickpeas and red beans tossed in black pepper, salt, finely cut slivers of cucumber and chopped coriander leaves. This is then topped off with churmuri – a mix of finely diced onions, tomatoes, radishes, coriander leaves and chilli power. Sev is dusted over the top, before the sauces are added.
There are two signature sauces in bhel puri. The first is a dark brown chutney made from soaking dates and tamarind overnight. The second is a green chutney, a blend of green chillies and coriander leaves.
Fresh lemon juice is squeezed over the top, followed by a dollop of yoghurt and a drizzle of tomato ketchup. The whole mix is walled in by poppadom pieces.
A spoonful of the snack releases a mix of flavour: sweet, savoury, tangy and spicy at the same time.
Surrounded by shopping bags, Amna Yasir is waiting for her order of bhel puri in the Centaurus food court and chatting with her friends.
“I’m getting married in two weeks, and I have to keep track of what I eat – which is very difficult when you’re out shopping every day. I do prefer to eat some kind of chaat, and bhel puri is one of my favourites because it has so many flavours,” she said.
A variant of the same dish is raj puri. A large swollen puri shell is loaded with diced potatoes, chopped seasonal greens, sev and pomegranate seeds. Brown and green chutney, and yoghurt, is then poured slowly over the top so it trickles down in colourful streaks.
But if you can’t see yourself tackling a large raj puri, the Gujarati puri may be a better choice. This is similar to raj puri, only with smaller puri shells, that can be filled up with tamarind water before they are eaten whole.
The ingredients used in both dishes can be mixed and matched. When in season, street vendors often dice up tangy, raw mangoes and toss them into the mix. In the winter, a mixture of palak and paneer is also placed in raj puri.
Although most vendors in Islamabad serve the dish in plastic containers, bhel puri is traditionally served either on a papadi or on a leaf shaped into a cone.
Published in Dawn, February 8th, 2016