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Tracing the Origin and Evolution of Pani Puri

From Draupadi's legendary test to its global transformation with modern twists by celebrated chefs, the street food amazes us with the explosion of flavours and history

21 Feb '24
6 min read


Crack, pop, gulp, and gasp – eating pani puri is an art form itself. Poke a hole on the puri with your forefinger tip, and load it with your favourite filling – be it mashed potatoes, green sprouts, chopped onions with mints, or mushy peas – and dunk the whole thing in sweet and sour tamarind water and green chutney in quick succession. Then just pop the whole thing in your mouth and wait… Even a bit soggy, the puri crumbles fast, setting off an explosion of flavours in your mouth that fills your soul. 

That's how you should enjoy pain puri

As the quintessential street food, pani puri is more than a snack; it’s a journey, a carnival of flavours that mirrors the rich tapestry of India's culinary diversity. Poochka, golgappa, or pani puri, there is no shortage of names and variations across the country. Before you wonder, the article isn’t about the never-ending war of which one is better.  

The context explores the humble origins of our Pani Puri, its diverse regional variations in India, and how celebrated chefs reimagine India’s favourite street food with modern twists and international influences.

Draupadi’s culinary test 

While there is no precise mention of the inventor or the origin in any scriptures, the story of the panipuri can be traced back to Mahabharata. Legend has it that when Draupadi arrived at her husbands’ residence during the exile, her mother-in-law Kunti put her to the test to see if she could run a household with limited resources. She asked her to prepare a meal for the entire family with some leftover vegetables and limited dough. Draupadi created a dish resembling golgappa, that satiated all five Pandavas’ hunger. Her creativity and resourcefulness impressed Kunti to the extent that she blessed the dish with immortality. 

Enough to satiate a family? Draupadi thought so. Pic: Foodie Trails

However, it’s difficult to buy this story as the potato arrived on Indian shores only 300-400 years ago. Another narrative suggests that during the reign of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, a cholera outbreak prompted people to resort to boiled water, which lacked taste. To enhance the water's flavour, a blend of spices and herbs was introduced, marking the emergence of pani puri.

The other assumption is the dish originated somewhere in the ancient Indian kingdom of Magadha. But the variation back then is quite different from the street food we love gulping down today.  Referred to as 'Phulki,' a term still used in parts of India for pani puri, these ancient versions featured smaller, crispier puris than those used today. Although the initial filling remains unclear, it is likely to have been some rendition of aloo sabzi (curry).

According to archaeologist and culinary anthropologist, Kurush Dalal, puri evolved from the kachori with the creativity of the maker and the taste preferences of the eater determining the type of filling it could hold. He aptly described the puri as a ‘vessel’ in a  Scroll feature

Regional twists

Over time, this street food snack travelled across different regions, adopting various names and adaptations, each with its unique twist on the classic recipe. For starters, in Maharashtra, the potato mash is combined with hot Ragda (white peas curry), while in Gujarat, boiled moong is used, and in Karnataka, chopped onions are added. As a result, we have around 10 varieties across the length and breadth of India.

  • Pani puri: Popular in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, etc., with sweet and spicy water, potato, chickpeas, and tamarind chutney. In Gujarat, this street food includes finely chopped potato slices along with sweet chutney, whereas in Mumbai, you'll find a stuffing of ragda (mashed white beans) paired with sweet tamarind chutney.
  • Puchka/Fuchka: Eastern India like West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, using spiced mashed potatoes and dal filling, with tangy chutney and spicy water. 
  • Gup Chup: Odisha, parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Hyderabad, and Telangana, with white peas or chickpeas served with spicy tangy water. 
  • Golgappa: North India, Punjab, with slightly bigger puris and more emphasis on the crunch.
  • Pakodi: Parts of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, with mint and green chilies added to the water.
  • Paani ke Patashe: Parts of Haryana, tastes similar to gol gappa.
  • Padaka: Another name for Pani Puri in Aligarh, UP.
  • Tikki: In Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh with slightly smaller puri, not to be confused with tikkis.
  • Patashi: Popular in Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh, it uses different spices for the water though the filling stays the same, i.e, potatoes and chickpeas or gram. In Lucknow, you can taste it  with five different types of water, called Paanch Swaad ke Batashe (spheres of 5 tastes), famous at Hazratganj. The water for Patashi is generally made from dry mangoes.

Linguistic echoes

The variations along with its name mirror the linguistic creativity and regional nuances that add to the cultural richness of this beloved street food. The name ‘golgappa’ encapsulates the essence of the snack - 'Gol' refers to the crispy shell, and 'gappa' signifies the eating process, as Golgappa is savoured one at a time. In West Bengal Puchka is thought to originate from the distinctive 'phuch' sound it makes when bitten into, creating a delightful explosion of flavours. 

Enter Odisha, parts of Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Hyderabad, and Telangana, you will be familiar with Gup Chup. Like the second half of the name - ‘Chup’ meaning silent- these delectable bites fill your mouth and render you speechless as you enjoy the burst of flavours. 

The modern interpretations beyond borders

Ever heard of Vodka Pani Puri or the Pani Puri Margarita, or even the bizarre Fire Panipuri? In the dynamic realm of gastronomy, both esteemed chefs and local eateries have made this beloved street food item their canvas, experimenting with diverse flavours to cater to a spectrum of diners, from elite gourmands to regular food enthusiasts. Renowned chefs have elevated Panipuri to fine dining status, for the burst of flavours and sensations it offers in a single bite. 

Nearly a decade ago, Manish Mehrotra of the award-winning Indian Accent brought it to modern Indian dining by serving various types of pani (water) in shot glasses with petite puris delicately perched on top. Chef Himanshu Saini, from the Michelin-starred Trèsind Studio in Dubai and Mumbai, filled the dish with organic arugula and potato, complemented by sweet and spicy water.

Pani puri at Indian Accent during Holi

This cherished street food staple has now transcended borders, capturing the attention of international chefs who are putting their unique spin on it. In Madrid, Dabiz Muñoz, crowned the best chef in the world at the Best Chef Awards 2022, presented his interpretation at DiverXO, his three-star Michelin restaurant. Here, diners are treated to Pani Puri filled with lobster claw and Salmorejo, a traditional Andalusian soup comprising tomato, bread, extra virgin olive oil, and garlic.

Chef Munoz's rendition of pani puri at DiverXO

Up north in Copenhagen, Chef Rasmus Munk at his two-Michelin-starred Alchemist took it up a notch by infusing the fried ball with flavoured smoke during his extensive six-hour dining experience. There has to be a South Asian take. At a pop-up in Delhi, Thailand's culinary star Thitid “Ton” Tassanakajohn created the Pani Puri Poh Taek, combining a cold traditional Thai soup of lamb jus, tomato, kafir, galangal, lemongrass, and chillies with the crunch of a housemade puri.

Our favourite street food snack is going places.

Category : Food and Cooking


Written by Madhuwanti Saha

Writer, Journalist , Photographer