This is how to eat an order of pani puri at Samosa House East, home of some of the best Indian snacks in Los Angeles. First, roll up your sleeves. Pani puri is chaat -- Indian street snack food -- and demands to be eaten with the fingers, lustily, and with some degree of abandon.
Then get ready to move. Pani puri comes in parts, and it demands a certain degree of focus and speed to assemble. There's the puri -- half a dozen or so egg-sized, eggshell-delicate balls of crisp, transparent fried bread. And there is the filling: raw onions, raw tomatoes, chickpeas, intensely sauced with mint chutney and tamarind. Finally, and most important, there's a small cup of jarijirra -- dense green mint water, laced with cumin and fennel.
You place a puri in your palm, and carefully, oh so carefully, break a small hole in the top. Take the utmost care not to breach the bottom of the shell. Slight, quick taps of your forefinger will do. Imagine that you are a tiny woodpecker, gently exploring a bonsai tree. Then spoon in some of the filling through the hole -- gently, or you'll shatter the shell.
To read the rest of C. Thi Nguyen's advice on how to eat a pani puri, click here.
Photo: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times