What is the connection between the two?
If you live in Bangalore, you wouldn’t ask that question, because every other chaat-cart and every third chaat-shop labels itself as a purveyor of Bangarpet Chaats.
Seems a bit unlikely when we all know that chaats, especially gol-guppas (or pani-puris or puchkas) are not part of the street-food tradition of South India. Tradition places the origin of gol-gappas squarely in North India—most probably Uttar Pradesh.
It is a dish of ancient origins, though how old is of course difficult to say, given our mix of mythology, history and folk tales. According to an interesting Mahabharata-linked story, Kunti wanted to give Draupadi a test when she first came home. To check whether the new princess-bride would be able to cope with the family circumstance—they were then living in exile in the forests—she gave her some leftover vegetable dishes and enough dough to make one puri. She asked her to cook something for the whole family with this. Draupadi came out with a brilliant innovation, the pani-puri! Kunti was very happy and blessed her. And she also blessed the dish with immortality! (Definitely not fair that Kunti should give her a test, but the usually spunky Draupadi does not seem to have protested. Imagine if Meghan Markle had been in Draupadi’s place—how many TV shows and books would this incident have been worth!).
More historical accounts are divided between two origins—either the Mughals brought the dish with them, or it was made in ancient times in temples as a prasad (I like this God!).
Whether Kunti’s blessing or some other factor, I for one am so grateful that pani-puris in all their variations are ubiquitous today.
Which brings us back to the Bangarpet Chaats and pani puris. Bangarpet is a town in the Kolar district of Karnataka, which came into existence because it was at a useful junction between the Kolar gold fields and the city of Bangalore. It has a population of about 45,000. But for the Bangarpet chaat, the town would be one more obscure dot on the map.
So what is special about the chaats from here? The ‘pani’ of the ‘pani-puri’. Pani-puris from here are called white pani-puris, for the colour of the water. Usually, the pani is a brown-green, thanks to tamarind and pudina being major ingredients. The Bangarpet pani is not so much white as clear. The secret is not different ingredients, but rather that many of the usual ingredients–cumin, green chillies, ginger, lemon etc.–are all ground together and steeped in the water. The resultant water is then trained leaving behind a tangy, spicy clear liquid. The innovation came from the heir of a chaat shop. R. Panduranga Setty had been running a chaat shop for many years. When his son Ramesh took over, he wanted to give his own special signature twist, and after much experimentation, came out with this variation which become very popular very quickly. Ramesh Chit Chat at Bangarpet still serves the best version of these, though the popularity has spread far and wide, and we can see Bangarpet chaat shops all over South India—each one asserting that it is the original!
But honestly, who cares where the dish originated? As long as I get my fix of this and all the other variations!