Chutney Challenged 101

Recently I was in Mumbai. It’s a fascinating, frustrating, bustling, busted-up, breaking-out kind of city. There’s so much going on, progress has been made, folks never stop eating, talking, giving you advice you never asked for and second-third helpings of food you never asked for. Mumbai also is dirty – monsoons, mega-population, corruption, infrastructure needs might help to explain the city’s gritty, dusty, weather-beaten look. I tried reading “Maximum City” about five years ago. It just did not go well, which says more about my attention span than about the quality of the book.


Take all this as clear confession that I know very little of or about Mumbai. Thinking I would avoid passing down this ignorance to my own children, I gratefully purchased “366 Words in Mumbai,” a kids’ guide to Mumbai published by FunOkPlease. Pages 36-37 feature “Cuisine of Mumbai.” I had tried nearly every dish on the spread: dosas, ragda patties, pani puri and pav bhaji (!!!) to name a few. But make them? I couldn’t. I can’t. I would never…

…or would I? Oh yes I will. Hence, the name of this blog might become more meaningful to my reader (hi mom!). Last week I initiated my Chutney Challenge with a crowd-pleasing classic: bhel puri. “Bhel” rhymes with “whale.” “Puri” translates roughly to bread and rhymes with Suri (Cruise; sort of).

Bhel puri is colorful, versatile, and easy-enough to make and to eat. Here in the U.S., you might not find it on an Indian buffet or the menu of a pricey fusion restaurant. But in India you can find it anywhere: street corners in big cities, backroads in beachy southern towns, at your aunt’s place because your mother-in-law will tell every living relative from Mumbai to Madurai that her American daughter-in-law loves bhel puri. Then everybody makes it for you. This is a good thing, because nobody will let the American laughter-in-law buy bhel puri from vendors on the street or on the beach. For sanitation reasons, street food is not considered a wise choice for the western GI system. In an upcoming post, I will share with you my own experiences making, sharing and explaining bhel puri. Or you can just google some recipes. They’re out there. But I have shortcuts and funny musings to supplement my recipe. So maybe you’d best stick to the buffet for now and come back to Chutney Challenged in a day or so.

Tip: bhel puri pairs best with Corona Light.

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