My introduction to Indian street food began in my childhood, and was presented by my mother, who was, in my most unbiased opinion, the world’s best chef. I can still recall with clarity the first time I saw her make samosas.
My five-year old self stared in wide-eyed fascination. My mother’s hands moved with a practised ease; like that of a ballerina’s, a deft dance of grace. As if she was a puppeteer commanding this ballerina pastry’s every move, her hands guided the pastry ballerina into the allegro. First the pirouette of the first fold, the beginnings of the triangular shape. Then the Grande Jété of mince from pot to pastry and then a series of more pirouettes until finally an assemblé with all the other samosas. In between each fold, she swiped a layer of lei (flour mixed with water to form a glue-like paste) to hold the shape firm. Her flour covered hands caked and crumbled with the flaky white substance as she moved on from one samosa to the next. Later that evening, she placed each triangle in a pan of sizzling oil, until their flimsy feet had hardened to a crisp, golden brown of an experienced dancer. The samosa was the most delicious it had ever been.
And now, fourteen years later, as a university student in Australia; miles and miles away from my mother’s cooking in Zimbabwe I long for that same taste of home. So I was delighted to visit Brisbane’s Gol Gappa; an Indian street food restaurant.
A favourite of my great aunt and uncle, Brisbane’s Gol Gappa held a promise of home for me, of which I was eager to receive. Named after its most popular snack (Gol Gappa is another term for pani puri), it promises a taste of home and nostalgia with its grinning pani puri logo donning a chef’s hat.
Tucked in the furthest right corner on Logan Road’s Palmdale food court, Gol Gappa’s interior and exterior are dotted with simple table and chairs. Inside, straw hangs overhead the walls giving the place a rustic feel, and a wagon stands near the back where a little sink and mirror presides. The back wall depicts a taste of Mumbai; the famous black and yellow Fiat taxi, a poster of 1975’s classic film “Sholay”. Next to the wagon, a little register that says, “SELF SERVICE” and “PLEASE ORDER HERE,” where a smiling Indian woman takes your order.
Typically in India, customers order their food at the stand. The snacks will be given to them at the stand and some customers prefer to eat on the go. On rare occasions plastic chairs and tables will be laid out for people to sit and eat. With pani puris (deep-fried hollow balls of puffed bread served with tamarind water, chickpeas, and spiced potatoes) for example, most customers eat while standing, and the general trend is to eat as many puris ordered as given by the Walla, the person who both makes and serves the puris. Gol Gappa differs in that it adopts the Western style of dining in the country in which it resides. Here, you order at the counter and a server will deliver the food to your table.
The service at Gol Gappa was fast, mirroring their Indian counterparts. The first time I visited, I had a pav bhaji, a spicy vegetable curry placed in a red round bowl with a dollop of butter in the middle accompanied by two buttered and toasted bread buns. The pav bhaji was delicious, and I enjoyed smearing my hands with butter and curry while tearing into the dish.
The second time I visited, I dragged my friend with me. We gorged ourselves on pani puri; and had fun filling the puris with the tamarind water and the chickpeas. I also ordered one of their samosas, nostalgic for my mother’s cooking.
I bit into the samosa and smiled when I heard that signature crunch sound. The filling was vegetarian of course, potatoes and peas mashed together with spices which warmed my belly instantly. That samosa reminded me of my love for Indian food, and took me back to those childhood days in my mother’s kitchen. It managed to put a smile on a homesick girl’s face, and made her feel as if she was five years old again; watching the dance of the samosas.
Aalia Hussein is a student at Brisbane’s Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Australia, where she is studying for a Bachelor of Fine Arts with a concentration in Professional and Creative Writing. Apart from writing, she enjoys exploring her city and discovering new places to eat.