Food Fight: Battle Dahi Puri
I have come to terms with my current obsession: dahi puri. It was sparked by the review I did of Sweet n Namkin some weeks ago and has only been growing stronger as I find more and more places around town in which to indulge my chaat tooth.
How I've eaten Indian food nearly my entire life yet never had dahi puri before this year is a mystery to me; I simply don't understand how such a thing happened. Almost as if to make up for lost time, I've been eating the stuff as often as possible now.
With that in mind, it was only a matter of time before I had to return to my old Food Fight stomping grounds to pit two of the restaurants I've been visiting lately in Battle Dahi Puri. While my favorite so far has been found at Shiv Sagar, that particular restaurant has already been featured in a previous Food Fight. (And if you're curious about Shiv Sagar's dahi puri, I wrote about them last week.) We like to spread the love around here at EOW.
So this week, I pitted two very different establishments against one another: Shri Balaji Bhavan, a traditional restaurant in the heart of the Mahatma Gandhi district off Hillcroft and Bansuri, a food truck close to Sugar Land with very short hours and no seating save the inside of your car.
Photo by Katharine Shilcutt
Shri Balaji Bhavan 5655 Hillcroft, 713-783-1126
This Indian restaurant is the 2010 bearer of our Best of Houston award for Best Indian Restaurant (a title it also held in 2008). So it goes without saying that we love it there, and I love it in particular for its masala dosa and salty lassi with ground cumin on top. But I'd never tried the dahi puri before.
An order of six dahi puri to a plate is a cheap $2.99 here, $1 less than at Bansuri and most other restaurants. One point instantly awarded to Shri Balaji Bhavan right off the bat. But I was less impressed with the little snacks than I've been with the restaurant's other food in the past.
The puri shells were already soggy, even though the order had just been delivered to the table. They fell apart almost the second my dining companion and I touched them. It was frustrating, to say the least, to watch all the lovely yogurt and chutney wasted as it careened out of broken shells.
As it turns out, though, it wasn't all that much of a loss (at least on my end). Despite the plentiful chickpeas and red onion in the dish, the chutneys were far too sweet for me, making the dahi puri far too sweet overall. There wasn't much spice to balance it out, either, making it seem as though I'd ordered dessert instead of a midday snack. I took refuge in the decidedly non-sweet liquid of my lassi and gave the rest of the dahi puri to my dining companion, who preferred the sweet taste. Then again, she also enjoyed the overpoweringly sweet mango lassi she'd ordered, too, so perhaps we can chalk this one up to my somewhat dormant sweet tooth.
Bansuri Indian Food Corner 11200 South Wilcrest, 713-624-2009
I would love to set up a time-lapse camera in the parking lot that holds the Bansuri truck, capturing the cars packed with people zooming in and out in the two -- sometimes two-and-a-half if it's a busy night -- hours that Bansuri is open each evening. Cars filled with mostly Indian and Pakistani visitors pull up, grab a quick order (dabeli seemed to be the most popular item in the two hours I hung around there Tuesday night) then head back into the night with their treasures acquired.
I chose to sit in my car and split an order of dahi puri with a friend, which are $3.99 for a plate of six. I was seriously unimpressed with the entire plate, which didn't feature the same bright colors and festive garnishes I've come to love about the snack. The lack of brightness translated to the dahi puri themselves, which were fairly bland and tasted mostly of boiled potatoes and chickpeas.
Where was the sweet chutney, the pop of onion, the minty cilantro, the tangy yogurt flavors? The yogurt was there, but it was oddly sticky, hanging off the dahi puri like thick strands of spit. It was a wholly off-putting visual, and the gloppy mouthfeel turned me off entirely. The chutneys were muted, leaving only the taste of puri shell and vegetables in each bite.
Luckily, the dabeli we ordered were amazing, the sweet flavors of nutmeg and cinnamon mixing with the more savory potatoes and cumin on a fluffy, barely toasted bun that left little question as to why this is Bansuri's most popular item.
Despite its too-sweet chutneys, Shri Balaji Bhavan emerged triumphant in this battle. That said, Shiv Sagar and Sweet n Namkin still have my favorite dahi puri to date.
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