It’s the perfect food. It’s texturally complex with a crispy, flaky, thin puri, filled with a soft concoction of lentil, potato, onions, chilis and an assortment of spices. An expert phuchka eater takes one of the hollow puris on one hand and jabs a thumb into it to make a hole. It’s a little like breaking an egg except you should not bash it against a hard surface as the puri is quite delicate. With a small spoon the expert stuffs it with the filling, careful not to break the puri completely while doing so. Then it is liberally drenched with the tamarind sauce, and popped whole into the mouth, where it explodes with a forcible burst of flavors that make you start assembling the second one while you chew your first.
I can never get enough of these.
It’s quite common to find a small, wooden cart manned by one person, with a stove and a big plastic bag full of ready-to-be-filled puris in the streets of Dhaka. There was a time when we were younger when my sister and I used to eat plates of these once or twice a week every week. While we aren’t that sincere to our dedication anymore, there has been no love lost between us and the phuchka.
It’s beautifully unctuous. It can be made to be mild for those who cannot take the heat. Or you can put your tongue through hell-fire depending on your preference for chili. And it can be addictive. My uncle’s friend who used to live in Virginia would visit our house quite often when he would come to Bangladesh. He would always bring a bag of phuchka with him on the way to our place, and we would over-eat and over-abuse our stomachs. Once we went to one of those carts one evening and he ate through fourteen plates. That’s about 112 phuckas. He lived to tell the tale and he tells it quite proudly.
This particular food, like a lot of food we eat in Bangladesh can be found elsewhere in the subcontinent. For instance, it its Wikipedia page it is called Panipuri, which is the most prevalent term used in India.
Maybe it’s just in my head, but the phuchka from the streets taste better than the phuchka from any upscale place I’ve tried. If you ever find yourself facing a cart of food on a street in Bangladesh, India, Nepal etc, do try out a plate of phuchka, panipuri, golgappa or whatever name it presents its glorious self in.
To the unaccustomed, any spicy street food may lead to unwarranted stomach issues. However you will live through it. You will live through the pain on your tastebuds as the chili threatens to evaporate your soul [Spicy food should be eaten spicy. End of discussion.]. You will swallow a pill to ease your stomach. All the discomfort, if any at all, will be temporary. The magic of the phuchka will begin when you pop one in your mouth for the first time, and will live on in your heart for good.