Back in my college years, my dorm mate lived in a room that resembled a shipwreck. There was a constant clutter lurking within, waiting to tumble out of the door for unsuspecting visitors who might hazard a peek inside. But, somehow, the overwhelming anarchy worked perfectly well for her in a way that defied the laws of order. The chaos not only helped her find things in a way that a clean room never could, but it also gave her comfort. If I had to find an edible version of her room, I would pick the famous Indian street snack dahi puri.
Dahi puri is a haphazard clutter of ingredients that must have been the serendipitous result of an Indian pantry breaking down and spilling its contents into one messy pile over the counter. But, as it did with my dorm mate, the clutter always miraculously works.
At many of the Indian eateries in Dubai’s Meena Bazaar, dahi puri starts out with a simple round-a-bout of puris – hollow globes of crunchy, deep-fried dough. This meticulous arrangement lasts for but a few orderly seconds before it is cluttered over with a flurry of ingredients. Tender boiled potatoes and crunchy mixed sprouts shower down like savoury hail into the puri, followed by viscous, chocolate-coloured chutney that snakes across the dish with puréed dates, jaggery and tamarind. A wide ladleful of creamy whisked yogurt descends all over the mess, making it snowy white and smooth for a few fleeting moments before a multicoloured army of fiery red pepper, earthy cumin powder, vibrant coriander leaves and sunny strands of deep-fried gram flour batter (sev) comes to blast the dish back into the flavourful battlefield. Despite the disarray of ingredients – crunchy, soft, viscous, creamy, sweet, salty, spicy and sour – the plate of dahi puri transforms the chaos into mouthfuls of multilayered comfort.
If there’s one sort of mess that an Indian mother would be guilty of introducing her daughter to, dahi puri would surely be it.
Arva Ahmed founded Frying Pan Adventures (www.fryingpanadventures.com), which takes people on tours through hidden culinary gems in Dubai
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