Having never studied or lived in Mumbai before I migrated here a dozen years ago, I had never sampled her famous street food. I came to Mumbai and was directly introduced to street foods like bhel puri and pani puri in the rather sanitised environs of Swati snacks and Soam. Sanitised or not, I was smitten. Yet, I never gathered up the courage to taste this actually on the streets. I wondered if the chutney (which is not cooked) would be safe, as also the other raw ingredients which go into the various chaats.
Till one day, in the not so distant past. My friend Rachana gave me a way in, and a way out. Right outside the Chumbak store in Kala Ghoda (next to Fabindia) in South Mumbai, is the Gupta Bhel Puri Centre. She nudged me towards it. When I demurred, she told me the big secret of street food – how to have your bhel and eat it too, as you like best!
Gupta offers up various mouthwatering combos, from the simple bhels to ragda masala and sukha bhel. My friend’s ingenious solution to hygiene issues is simply asking for sukha bhel with our choice of ingredients, yet leaving out the controversial imli, green and red chutneys. Then what’s left, you might grouse. Believe me when I say, the cone of bhel he whipped up had me asking for more, long after we had left his shop.
The yummy concoction had; the sukha or the dry bhel, slivers of the delectable kairi (raw mango), chana jor garam (a version of chickpeas), boiled potatoes, chopped tomatoes, chopped green chillies, peanuts, the chutney dal, hard puris, topped with lemon and salt – all tossed around with a light touch. It was a-b-s-o-l-u-t-e-l-y delicious. And as pedestrians hurried past and office goers dawdled over their lunch hour, I was in chaat heaven!
Now, this Gupta has a deadpan expression. He must be so used to the idiosyncrasies of his customers that nothing must surprise him. I salute him for adapting to the changing mores and times. The fact that we visit him often (whether he’s noticed it or not), I hope gives him some satisfaction. Well, he did allow me to photograph him! And I am happy to report, I have never got a tummy bug after eating here. And keeping my fingers crossed, never will:-)
Please note: Carry a spoon if you like, to eat the chaat in peace. Otherwise you will have to make do with a hard puri for a spoon. Most seem to prefer it, though. After all, that’s half the charm of standing by the wayside and eating messy stuff out of a paper cone, isn’t it?