Over the last few days, I have had many close encounters with golgappas.

Earlier this week, I went for a buffet dinner at Delhi O Delhi at India Habitat Centre, and golgappas were my first course.

When I went to Gulab – the sweetshop in Indirapuram – a couple of weeks ago, I brought home some packaged golgappas. But I think what really set me off was an offering of these tangy street snacks at a friend’s house earlier this month.

Another friend had carried some golgappas for us to eat at this get-together.

No, strike that out – he hadn’t got golgappas for us, but phuchkas. What’s the difference, you may ask. But don’t make the mistake of asking this to a Bengali from Kolkata – you’ll get your ears blasted off.

For phuchkas, they believe, are far superior to all their cousins – such as our golgappas or paani puri.

I am not a phuchka or a golgappa connoisseur, though I like these puffed discs filled with potatoes and chickpeas like anybody else.

But in the last few days, I have learnt quite a bit about the Dilliwallah golgappa and the Bengali phuchka. And all because of a Calcutta phuchka wallah who stands with his khomcha (a carrier made with bamboo sticks) near Laxmi Nagar in East Delhi every evening.

This is a gentleman called Uma Shankar. He migrated to Delhi a year ago and has been selling Kolkata phuchkas since then. If you are coming from ITO and turn right at the Laxmi Nagar crossing (going towards Mother Dairy), you will find him on the pavement on your left after the fruit sellers. A plate of phuchkas – with four phuchkas – is for Rs.10.

What makes his stuff so special is the mashed potato that goes into the cavity of the discs. Delhi golgappas have bits of potatoes and chickpeas in them. The puffed wheat or suji disc is then filled with mint-flavoured water, and topped with a bit of saunth, the sweet red chutney prepared with tamarind.

The Bengali phuchka, on the other hand, doesn’t have small pieces of potato in it, but very well spiced and mashed potatoes. They don’t put chickpeas in the Kolkata phuchkas, but Uma Shankar keeps a bowl of small black boiled channas for people who want them.

The water is different too. Kolkata’s flavoured water is more spicy and has a tangier taste because of the lavish use of tamarind. Dilli’s golgappa paani, on the other hand, is light green (because of the mint) and though tangy, not very spicy.

Our Uma Shankar has clients who like their phuchkas really hot, and for them he has a bowl of green chilli paste on the side, which he mixes with the potatoes.

Well, I must admit I quite liked the Kolkata phuchka, but I can’t say that I found it vastly superior to our own golgappas. They are different, as those two actors said about a brand of ketchup in that old commercial. But tastier?

Let the debate begin.

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