Pani Puri: Journey from Ganga to Niagara
Written by Aesha Patel
I grew up carefree in the heart of one of the most populated cities in India: Ahmedabad. I loved my life there. We lived in a bungalow with marigold exterior walls, and a huge porch with a big wooden porch swing. We were an average, middle class family of 5, but we were happy. One day after I got home from school, my mom and dad sat me down for a serious talk. As the breadwinner of the family, my dad had decided that we would be moving to Canada. He wanted more for my future, to raise me as an independent and successful woman. I think he believed that he would not be able to achieve that goal in the India, because of sexism. Being 9 years old, I did not understand the repercussions of their decision.
The transition of moving from a big city in India to Toronto was not easy. In Toronto, we lived in a one-bedroom apartment painted with white walls, comprised of two chairs, one table, and a mattress. It did not take long for me to realize that I really missed home. The Indian food that my mom made was not the same as it was in India. It tasted bland; just like our new home. I was devastated by the drastic change in my environment, and I blamed it on the food.
On the third day, I woke up crying, and I told my dad that I wanted to go back. When he asked me why, I told him it was because our food in Canada did not taste the same as it did back home. With a mix of amusement and worry, he told me we would discuss the matter once he got home from work in the evening. My parents chatted in the kitchen that morning in hushed whispers, and my dad left for work. Undoubtedly, I was upset that entire day, waiting for my dad to come home and tell me we could go back to India.
Instead, we would be going out dinner. I dejectedly got ready, confident that my parents would not be able to fix the matter as I ate flavorless food. We walked for two blocks until I began to smell warm naans cooking in a tandoor – it smelled divine. The neighborhood in which the restaurant was situated was quite ordinary. There were houses on one side of the street and plazas with a Chinese spa on the other. Soon, we approached the brightly lit banner that read “A1 Sweets.” We entered a very small, but cozy, Indian restaurant. As soon as I walked in, I felt as if I was back in India. People were conversing in Hindi. The sound of utensils clinking in the background, the entire room was filled with the smelled warm naans. As we sat down, my dad ordered our favorite dish, pani puri.
Once the dish arrived, I pushed my thumb into the puri to create a hole, and filled it with the potato stuffing and sweet chutney. Then, I dipped the stuffed puri into the cold spicy mint water. The entire puri barely fit into my mouth, but as soon as I bit into the crispy puri, my mouth was filled with multiples tastes of spicy minty water, sweet chutney, and chaat masala. In that moment, I felt as if I was eating pani puri from a street vendor back in India.
My parents and I had a mini pani puri eating competition of our own, and I am certain they let me win. That night, I became open to the idea of calling Canada my home for the first time. I understood that I could get good food anywhere, but my home was with my parents. As long as we were together, it did not matter where we lived. After that, I never asked my dad to move back to India. Today, it has been 12 years, and so I am glad my dad did not give into my silly demand.
Aesha Patel is a 22-year old Criminology undergraduate student, studying at the University of Toronto. She has lived in Toronto for a very long time, but there is still a little bit of India inside.
For the best pani puri in Toronto, Aesha recommends Bombay Chowpatty on Gerrard St.
Those who want to know more about global diaspora of Indian middle class can see the book:
Radhakrishnan, Smitha. 2011. Appropriately Indian: Gender and Culture in a New Transnational Class. Durham, NC ; London : Duke University Press.