Bhel at Khyber Pass, Street Food in a Restaurant

An exhilarating combination of textures and flavors

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By David Hammond

One morning wandering in Calcutta, India, I walked by a man selling something that looked delicious. It seemed to be basically puffed rice with spices and vegetables. I knew right away I would like it. I did…a lot.

Called bhel puri, this Indian street snack is a combination of many things that can change pending the availability of ingredients, but it almost always contains the puffed rice, some tiny little noodles (fried hard), fresh cut vegetables like onion and potato, and some sauce with spices. Sometimes it has chickpeas in it. Behl is fabulously delicious.

My little cone of bhel puri in Calcutta cost 23 rupees, or about 40 cents US.

Last weekend, we stopped in at Khyber Pass before a show at the Lake. I was thinking about getting the buffet (usually a good deal), but opted for the Bhel ($6.95), which is not on the buffet because it is, in every sense of the term, fast food. It's made fast and you have to eat it fast because if you don't, the puffed rice gets soggy. It can't be made ahead of time, so it can't be on the buffet.

Bhel puri can be an exhilarating combination of textures (crunchy, crispy, soft) and flavors (sweet, hot, salty, sour). The version at Khyber Pass $6.95) contains tamarind and mint sauces, and it's improved with the addition of a little hot sauce.

You can make bhel puri at home, but many of the primary ingredients, like the puffed rice and noodles, usually seem to come in Costco-class quantities. Better to have someone make it for you…even at a price 15X higher than on the streets of Calcutta.

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