Bhel puri has a euphonic ring, suggesting the kind of party-readiness that Tostitos tries to front. Except there can be no American chip analogous to this Indian savory snack, which will activate no less than three taste sensations and two textural contrasts with each bite at a time.
A typical bhel puri will call for a riotous pile of crisps: kurmura or puffed rice, biscuits called papdi and thin fried vermicelli known as sev. Then comes chopped onions and tomatoes, and roasted peanuts. Depending on regional preferences, there might be a garnish of coriander, a squeeze of lime, some roughly cubed potatoes, legumes, or a handful of raw mango bits. Everything will be tossed in chutney, often both a tamarind and a mint or coriander-based blend, followed by chili powder. It's best dressed to order like leafy green salads. A soggy bhel puri is no friend to your palate.
A member of the savory snack family chaat, its origin is Gujarati, or so goes a commonly held belief, and easily found as a snack served in newspaper cones on the streets of Mumbai. Across the Pacific, in greater Los Angeles, bhel puri is a snack you'll more likely find at suburban Indian grocery stores, restaurants and snack shops. And whereas you could buy a crisp mix pack sold by Indian grocers then prep and add fresh ingredients, you're better off leaving the recipe guesswork behind at one of our three favorites in town. This way you can pair your bowl, or plate, of bhel puri with a mango lassi that's almost always on menu.
3. Surati Farsan Mart
Surati Farsan Mart is a sleeker addition to the collective of Indian shops and restaurants that compose Little India alongside Pioneer Boulevard. As with most savory snack bites here, bhel puri, almost equal parts crisps and legumes to chopped onions and chutney, can be found listed on a three-screen menu to the shop's left. On weekends, locals and out-of-towners alike line up at the shiny glass counter cases to stock up on snack staples like various types of milk-based confection called barfi. It's then when the shop becomes a busy hub for reunions and gossip that your enjoyment of bhel puri really heightens, evoking the conviviality you'd imagine any credible street snack would inspire. 11814 186th St., Artesia; (562) 860-2310.
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2. Samosa House and Bharat Bazaar
Close to the center of Samosa House and Bharat Bazaar is the prepared food counter from which you can order comfort foods like dosas and chaats. While you're in line, you'll notice that everyone seems to be a regular, as familiar as they are with the row of vegetarian fare. Even more so than other versions around town, bhel puri is thoroughly mixed before served, creating a double-edged result of a plate that's well-spiced throughout, but also slightly less crispy. 11510 W. Washington Blvd., Mar Vista; (310) 398-6766.
1. Standard Sweets and Snacks
It's almost too convenient that Standard Sweets and Snacks by Jay Bharat is right around the corner from Surati Farsan Mart, but why question serendipity when it falls in your gustatory favor? Served in tin oval-shaped bowls, bhel puri is a bit haphazardly layered here, providing you the option to mix at will. There will be more sev than papdi and the kitchen doesn't shy away from adding a healthy proportion of fresh ingredients cooked and raw. Roughly chopped cilantro, absent in quite a few iterations elsewhere, is a welcome garnish. 18701 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia; (562) 924-3310.