Temptation of the Tangy Gol Gappa

“I think both mom and grandma are asleep already, let’s go. But be quiet!” I lead the pack; three innocent young girls follow me to the main gate of our house. It’s one of those hot and lazy summer afternoons in Karachi. The year is 1990. We hear this entrancing song playing out of an old cassette player and—like small children following the Pied Piper of Hamelin, spellbound by the music he’s playing—we tiptoe our way out to the street, as discreetly as possible, towards the source of this music: the guy selling gol gappa.

This snack originated in Bihar, India, and quickly became a favorite all over India and its neighboring countries. Sangeeta, in her article at The Hindu, describes her experience:

The hollow of a well-bloomed mini puri, the belly wobbly with tangy-hot masala water, a small chunk or two of potato hand mixed well with mashed chick peas floating therein… and that burning desire to pop it in as soon as the seller dollops it on to that small leaf cup you are asked to hold. Wah! That first feel of it melting in your mouth! Oh, dear, it’s just out of the world!

Growing up, there has always been a strict rule in the house that clearly forbade us to eat street food. We were constantly reminded of how dirty it was. “You’ll get yellow eyes and tummy cramps!” we’re told. “Did you see the water he uses? Who knows where they’re getting it from.” As kids, we didn’t understand what the fuss was about; we could clearly see other kids from the neighborhood eating the gol gappa and never noticed them sporting yellow eyes. So we had to sneak out to buy gol gappas which, quite fortunately, was a pretty rare activity since we kids didn’t have money anyway.

Fast forward to today: mom was right all along. The gol gappa vendors that roam the streets in the afternoon, at the exact time when they know the authorities are asleep and children can sneak out easily, do not really follow even the basic hygienic standards. I will refrain from giving you the sordid details, but rest assured that it’s much safer to eat from restaurants.

And it’s safest when you make your own gol gappa, a.k.a. pani puris at home! The assembly or putting together of the different ingredients is ridiculously easy, but the preparation takes so much time (with so much stuff to wash afterwards).

This is my first attempt at making gol gappa, and I cheated a bit—I bought the puris, those rounded hollow balls, from a supermarket. It’s still a lot of work, nevertheless, but we had so much fun eating these at home!

The Tamarind Water:

1 cup mint leaves, chopped finely
1/4 cup tamarind pulp (or 2 teaspoons of thick tamarind extract/paste)
1 inch piece of ginger, chopped
4 green chillies
1 tsp roasted cumin seeds powder
1 tsp black salt
salt to taste

  1. In a mixer, blend together the tamarind pulp and all the ingredients, except the black salt.
  2. Grind to a fine paste. You may add a little water, if necessary.
  3. In a large bowl add the paste, 1 liter of water, and black salt. Mix well.
  4. Let the mix sit for 20 minutes, strain out into another container using a sieve, and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours.

The Red Chutney:

½ cup tamarind pulp
½ cup sugar
½ tsp roasted cumin powder
1 tsp red chili powder
¼ cup dates, remove pits
salt, to taste
a pinch of red food coloring (optional)

  1. Boil a cup of water.
  2. Add all the ingredients and cook for 1o minutes.
  3. Remove from the stove and allow mixture to cool down to room temperature.
  4. Blend into a rich paste.
  5. Strain out the paste into another container using a sieve.

Sweet Tamarind Chutney:

1 cup tamarind pulp
½ cup brown sugar
¼ tsp ginger powder
¼ tsp carom seeds (ajwain)
½ tsp roasted cumin powder
½ tsp red chili powder
salt, to taste

  1. Boil a cup of water.
  2. Add all the ingredients and cook until the mix is nice and thick.
  3. Allow to cool, then transfer in a dry container.

The Filling:

boiled potatoes, chopped into tiny cubes
boiled chickpeas (I used the canned one)
onions, finely chopped
red chili powder
salt, to taste

  1. Mix everything up.

How to eat:

This is, undoubtedly, the most interesting and fun part! And do I really have to explain how gol gappas are eaten? Alright, so for those of you who have been unfortunate to have lived this long and not experience eating gol gappas, allow me to explain to you the proper etiquette of eating a gol gappa.

  1. Grab one well-bloomed puri, and carefully crack a hole on the top. Be careful though; you don’t want to entirely crush these delicate beauties.
  2. Add the potato/chickpea filling.
  3. Add little bit of both the wonderful chutneys.
  4. Dip the puri into the tamarind water, filling it up with the mouth-watering goodness.
  5. Quickly plop the entire puri into your mouth and drown in this glorious, life-changing experience!

What food evokes childhood memories for you?

PS: Those tiny yellow balls in the white container are called boondi. They came in with the packet of puris that I bought from the supermarket.

33 comments

  1. We had some for iftar the other day after like YEARS of not having any. Can I say YUM?! I attempted to make my own puris one year, and they weren’t bad. Just takes a lot of time and patience to make them. Once this Masters is finished, I might make a stack inshallah!
    Humaira recently posted..A new Princess enters the fold

    1. Yum! Love these!

      There’s so many foods that remind me of my childhood.. or even just life with the parents at home. I miss those days of having someone give me my 3 meals and not have to worry about dishes 🙂

      1. Hello, ‘liya! We never do appreciate our carefree life with parents at home until we begin managing homes ourselves. Whenever I visit my mom, she cooks for me, and although I feel guilty for making her do extra work for me, I don’t stop her because a) I miss her cooking, and b) I miss being pampered by my mom. I make up by doing the dishes later 🙂

    2. Humaira, I salute you for making your own puris because for me, the two chutneys and potato fillings were already a lot of work! When do you finish your Masters?

  2. Nadia! You’re a genie! I was thinking about it yesterday , who would post on gol gappa on word press and you did it!
    The opening was very honest and fun – I knew it bachpan se you’re a gang ki ustani!
    Masha Allah, good effort! I mite just give u another award on gol gappa post .
    Khanum recently posted..Principles of My Home Cooking

    1. Um, is it a compliment to be called a genie? But since it’s coming from you…thank you, Pervisha! 🙂

      Yeah, I do humbly realize that I had leadership potential since birth.

      I love your awards!

  3. Oh how I love gol guppa! I used to eat them from the stalls in Lahore and pray I wouldn’t get sick back when I was visiting. Good memories. It is so impressive that you made all that! Masha’Allah. They look delish!

  4. i am suddenly having cravings for your sauces and fillings in gol gappas … 🙁 why are you sooo faarr away dear sis .. sob sob

  5. Oh can’t imagine a life without the spice & flavur of gol gappa. Will be way too bland and lifeless without them, I am sure. And the ones you have displayed….mmmm….much enticing!

    On a different note, I have taken the liberty to tag you in one of my posts as a part of 7 links project initiated by trip base. Hope, you’ll like being part of the viral spread. Pls visit my blog to find out more about it. Thanks 🙂

  6. When we visited India I tried these at a restaurant in Kolkata called Haldiram’s. It was pretty good … although I never understood the craze for it (must be an Indian thing!). I like a burger any day …. 🙂

    It was also funny that when we were over there, my cousins were telling us unless you eat it from a street vendor it wasn’t the real thing. So I dared them, they went off to a street vendor, and a day later were all sick from food poisoning – and they were brought up there!

    I never forget the vendor I saw who was sharpening his knife against the footpath and then the next second used it to cut up some veggies…
    Mezba recently posted..Ramadan Iftar Foods

    1. And a Pakistani thing! We’re crazy about these snacks. And no, you can’t compare them with burgers 😀

      Sorry to hear about the food poisoning, but yeah, street food is risky.

      Ewww at the guy who are sharpening his knife against the footpath. I haven’t seen anything like that!

    1. We tried these ready made mix once and it didn’t turn out good, hence the effort to make the chutney and water from scratch. But perhaps Haldirams’ are good?

  7. A very interesting dish! Never had it in my entire life 🙂 Hey,at least I know boondi 🙂 I want to try one.I’ll try to remember to look for it when I go shopping at Little India here.Your presentation of the food is good and it’s calling me..lol

    1. Hello, Lat! You definitely should try this; I think your boys will love it.

      “Your presentation of the food is good and it’s calling me.” I love this line!

  8. This snack looked delicious and mouth-watering. I wish I could try making this in the near future. But I didn’t know if there is a available puri at the supermarket in my place. The ingredients in the filling seem nice and the dipping seems yummy. I also didn’t know where I could find dates but I wish there are available dates in the local grocery.
    Stephan Hilson recently posted..Forfait mobile pas cher

  9. I just love Gol Goppa’s they are my favourite for a evening snack time with friends. I know I can’t control the number of puris I have and when the recipe is home made so deliciously then no body can stop me.
    Lola T recently posted..Te de alpiste

  10. i guess everyone loves gol gappas … it’s meant to be so !! but making them at home is quite tiring … i would rather have them from the street vendor … it’s more fun to have them there – once in a while doesn’t harm much !!

    But off course … those gol gappa lover who are staying way from home – can definately love to learn the recipe n feast on them 🙂

    1. Hello, Sharmila! The gol gappas are meant to be bought and eaten from the street vendor; that’s half the charm of eating them. We have a nice restaurant here called Bombay Chowpatti that sells really good chats, faloodas, and all the other street food. But I had to make gol gappas myself, even just once in a lifetime.

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