An Explosive Relationship with Pani Puri
Through the Kathmandu Valley’s lifting late-morning haze, I spot him. Tall and dark-skinned, tattered red top glued to his thin frame, he stands waiting in front of a makeshift wooden stall. My stomach growls. I march purposefully toward him, hopping over the muddy puddles from yesterday’s sticky rain.
I weave with expertise through the crowds of women dressed in shiny saris, the beggars with missing limbs and open gashes, the glue-sniffing street kids caked in dust, and the dhaka-draped villagers wearing stunned expressions. Minibuses speed past, honking us out of their way. A rickshaw driver or two spot my blonde hair and blue eyes and heckle me for a ride. I step on a glob of mucus. But I make it to the man with the stall.
My teeth barely touch the wafer and the liquid has already exploded, suffusing my palate with the medley of flavors I love almost as much as the feeling of belonging that washes over me with each bite.
“Malai cha dinuhos,” I say proudly to him, gesturing toward the item behind his glass display. Give me six. I’m aiming big today.
Delicately, he pulls out the first round, hollow wafer, and, with the gentle pressure of his thumb, punches a hole into its body. He stuffs creamy aloo (potato) into the hole, then spoons in the fragrantly spiced water that is both the key and the downfall of my beloved snack.
The offering is presented on a small plastic plate. It’s not much to look at, but for me it’s just perfect. I smile at a few bewildered passersby.
“Chito, chito,” he urges. Quickly. Before the puri melts. I pop the ball into my mouth whole. My teeth barely touch the wafer and the liquid has already exploded, suffusing my palate with the medley of flavors I love almost as much as the feeling of belonging that washes over me with each bite.
I lick my lips in anticipation of my next treat. I don’t have to wait long. His deft fingers have already spun me another work of art.
An Explosive Relationship with Pani Puri.
We continue our dance, in perfect harmony. Pop. Explode! Pop. Explode!
“Bhayo, dhanyabad,” I say, placing my palms together in thanks. Thank you, sir, for helping me show everyone just how Nepali I am.
I turn around and walk home. Alongside ancient temples and bustling street markets, through the narrow alleys of Assan, and past the dusty tourist shops of Thamel. Past these Kathmandu streets that feel more and more like home with each exploding pani puri I place gently in my mouth.
I turn the corner into my alleyway just in time. My stomach has started to gurgle. It’s speaking a language I know far better than my intermediate Nepali.
I race up the stairs just in time to find relief.
At least I made it all the way home this time.