Padam Chaat Corner: Pani Puri Like You've Never Had Before

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If you walk through Kinari Bazaar in Chandni Chowk, past shops selling everything from turbans to buttons, you will arrive at Padam Chaat Corner; a small platform no more than six feet long and four feet wide with a bilious pink wall behind it. On the platform sits a man in a ragged white dhoti, a nondescript shirt with a bright red tilak below a sparsely haired head. Arrayed before him in metal pots and pans and cane baskets is a selection of chaat, which he calls Kitty Party. Pani puri, kachori, rajkachori, bhalla paapdi, papdi chaat, and kalmi vada are on offer.

Padamji or Panditji, as he is fondly called by regulars, exudes an air of tremendous superiority as he sizes me up with his small, pale, watery eyes. I ask for pani puri. With rehearsed ease, a pattal is handed to me while Panditji begins to stir a jar with pale green water in it. One after another, delicious, savoury and sweet puris brimming with water, chutneys, soft-boiled potatoes and pickled guava find their way into the pattals. After four pieces each, Panditji stops and leans back into the wall behind him. Unwilling to let the assault on my senses end, I ask ‘Ek aur plate.’ He asks, ‘Variety ya simple?‘ Without missing a beat, I ask for variety—it is, after all, the spice of life.

Panditji serves me four pani puris. The first with searingly hot pani, encased in an atta puri that makes my ears pop. The second is delightfully tangy, with a hit of pickled guava to enhance the gastronomic experience. The third puri is sinfully sweet, loaded with saunth.

Fixing me with a blank stare, Padamji gently places a dahi-filled puri on my plate. The soothing dahi calms my burning mouth, before a gentle hit of citrus leaves it feeling clean. How Panditji extracts so many flavours from the same combination of chutneys and water is probably a state secret. As I down the dregs of water in my plate, the maestro gives me a wry smile, and enquirers ‘Khush?’ I smile and offer only my salaam. If the Padma awards had a category for culinary contributions to Indian culture, Padamji would be a winner by default.

Where: Gali Barfwali {near Kinari Bazaar}, Chandni Chowk

Nearest Metro Station: Chandni Chowk

Price: Starting at INR 40 for a plate of golgappas.