Indian Appetizers and Snacks
The history of Indian food and especially of Indian appetizers is closely related to the country’s culture and traditions. The Indian cuisine is as diverse as the Indian people and it has a large (and extremely rich) selection of appetizers, hors d'oeuvres, and snacks. Besides being extremely tasty and actually stimulating your appetite rather than diminishing it like some other cuisines’ appetizers, these fast snacks are also quite low in fat, since they are based on a number of spices and herbs, such as ginger, cinnamon, garlic, cloves, asafetida, aniseed or coriander, rather that the fat appetizers you’ll find mostly anywhere else in the World.
The majority of Indian appetizers and snacks are based on potatoes, combined with different spices. The Alu Ki Tikki for example, which is one of the oldest snacks recorded by the history of Indian food, is made out of mashed potatoes coriander and onions. Another snack greatly enjoyed by the British during the Raj period, the Samosa appetizer, made out of steamed potatoes, peas and vegetables, is one of the many Indian recipes that was passed on from ancient times.
Although most appetizers and snacks usually follow the same ingredients for each particular recipe, it should be noted that authentic Indian dishes can never be limited to a strict formula, since they differ from household to household. For example if you go to the North, in Punjab for instance and try out a Dahi Barra yogurt and fritter appetizer, it will definitely taste and even look slightly different than a similar Dahi Barra appetizer dish in Southern India’s Tamil region.
Because of this, when the British armies set foot in India, their cooks were dazzled by the sheer number of variations of the same dish. One legend stands out of the crowd from the history of Indian food, namely that of the British cook William Harold. William was quite an experienced chef, working for a rather successful restaurant in central London, when he was sent to India to help the war effort with his meals. Because his dishes were so delightfully well done, he was promoted to be the personal cook of a high ranking officer in the British Empire’s Army. One day, the officer ordered William to get the recipe for a local dish he ate and thoroughly enjoyed that day, named by the locals Bhel Puri, in order to mass-cook it for the troops.
Because there were very few written recipes in India back then (locals were passing on their cuisine with each generation, usually orally) William started walking from home to home, knocking from door to door, in order to find the recipe for the Bhel Puri, which, even today, is quite a complicated appetizer. With every house he went to, he got another recipe, another kind of spice to put on top of the potatoes and rice (seemingly the only ingredients that remained constant in the dish) and another kind of oil to use.
After a long day of inquiries in which the poor cook was unable to find a stable recipe for the wonderful snack, he returned to the barracks, beaten and amazed by the variety of semi-recipes he managed to pile up. Seeing that he is back, the officer asked if he could serve the first portion of Bhel Puri that night, but William told him he couldn’t get any real recipe in his hands and ironically stated that “we’ll have to stick to French fries again tonight, Sir!”. Legend says that the officer, berserk with fury, took out his handgun and shot the cook dead, causing a mutiny amongst the barrack’s soldiers, who were both fed up with the officer’s cruel and disrespectful ways and in love with William’s heavenly cooking. That’s how a small bowl of Bhel Puri (or should I say the lack of it) shook an entire British barracks and caused a long night in the Court Martial offices…
All legends aside, we now know an approximate recipe to the Bhel Puri (somehow thanks to poor William too). The tasty Indian snack is made out of crispy puris, puffed rice, Indian sevs, chilli powder, potatoes, red onion, chat masala, coriander and lemon or mango juice. It comes in two dish “versions”, spicy or sweet. The spicy chutney includes garlic cloves, mint leaves, salt and green chilies, while the sweet chutney’s ingredients are cumin seeds, jaggery, sugar, tamarind pulp and boiled dates pulp.