The missing ‘a’ is noticeable. Who says masal-ah-puri? What love is love when a lover does not call them by their nickname?
It’s mostly, “Anna, ond masalpuri”
But there can be different loves. I am no one to dictate. An uncle once ordered the same because the hot-hot masala would make his sore throat warm. That’s love for him.
Pungence – Putting kaalu
If you unintentionally end up looking at a chaat cart while strolling down a street, the reflex is probably for the savoury-pungent paani among other chaatsy ingredients. The street chef sets-up ammunition and starts an automatic friendly fire on all those who walk past the cart. This is perhaps what in Bengaluru is referred to as ‘putting kaalu’ or ‘putting line’. Each such kaalu consists of a rustle of vivid masalas, coriander, mint leaves with ginger, and diced onions that carry the piquant smell and lure us by the nip of the air. This is street!
On the other hand, ordering chaat in a typical fine-dine restaurant is like being in love without first falling in it, without the first sight of love. Munching chaats won’t be the same without first getting lured by it.
The street corner near our school would get crowded with students. Those who got daily pocket money would be surrounded by friends waiting to get their share of Churmuri. The excitement of being in proximity to the chaat cart and getting half a handful of the chaat from a half-willing friend was nothing short of treat. With the occasional pocket money I got, I always turned towards the cart, not for Masalpuri, but for Bhel. I used to be content with Bhel. It was crunchy, had carrot, onions, tomatoes and what not? It tasted like a very cool cousin of the uncool rice bath. Most importantly, it filled me. I never turned to Masalpuri – mostly watery sambhar lacking good solid fillings. Until 2020, before my job. Now, I just snack on other chaats and don’t ask to be filled. This approach made Masalpuri, a love that happened and Bhel, a mere infatuation I won’t let go of.
Bhel tastes the same from the first spoon to the last, the same goes for Sev puri and Pani puri among others. Because their preparation involves mixing ingredients. As a result, the spice, the sweet, the sour, tangy-and-tart flavours are proportionately distributed across the dish.
Why then does Masalpuri stand out? Inequality.
Like wealth in capitalism, this chaat has an uneven distribution of tastes. The only difference is – the savourer gets to gulp the full wealth of tastes by the end, spoon by spoon. While Masalpuri is a rainbow, all others are plain white lights. Why do I say this? At first, the street chef does an appachchi on the puris, which form the brittle-crispy foundation of our chaat, then come the hot–hot peas with sambhar, mixed veggies with more
onions, a few pinches of salt, chilly powder, garam masala and chaat masala. Remember, no mixing but simply placing.
Now further decoration for the taste is a sight to witness. The chef does some hand swirling acts on the dish like a sorcerer. It comes with a sugar syrup spiral, sev sprinklings followed by coriander garnish. For a different street chef, it is plus or minus other familiar ingredients. If you poke your spoon where more chilly powder is sprinkled, you inaugurate with the spicy part. I personally go for the sweet syrup area, and it is mandatory to have at least one piece of smashed puri per mouthful.
Some people just marry and/to make kids. Where is the pleasure that comes with love? It is in the delicate!
Likewise, some unprofessional eaters mix everything and disturb the delicate rainbow-like separation — a cultural spill-over perhaps, as seen in mixing anna-saru (rasam rice) and the likes. We need change. We need saviours of the Masalpuri, not destroyers who don’t simply enjoy it. #SavioursSavourBest
For nerds: Simple random spooning and the catch.
If VIBGYOR is simply seven colours, B+G gives one more colour, Y+O+R yet another, and so on. Doing the math, we arrive at 120! That’s the number of new colours we can create using the seven from the rainbow. If any nerd differs, do comment! If you just imagine the kinds of tastes we could create by randomly-spooning into the different parts of the Masalpuri, you’re in the wrong because there’s a catch (giggles)
Even though Masalpuri has more than seven tastes, it is dominated by the taste of sambar and peas. Every other taste created is on a micro-level. That is, out of the 10,000 tastebuds we possess, only a few hundred might sense the new taste which is gobbled up in seconds. This is probably why we go back to this chaat and
discover the delicate every time we relish it. There are odds of a flavour getting repeated. Math can be done. But let’s just say: it takes a lifetime to savour all the combinations of the exotic chaat; just like love.