Phuchka is a Kolkata speciality and is one of the leading snacks of the city. It is available in other parts of India in other forms and names (Golgappa, pani puri, gup chup), but honestly nothing beats the Kolkata variant. Even Indians from other parts of India vouch for it.
In Mumbai for example it is known as gol gappa and the filling is that of matar (A preparation of peas), and the water is also sweetish. Here in Kolkata the filling is of meshed potato, chana (Sprout), mint leaves (Optional), cumin powder, red chili powder, salt, black salt and tamarind mixed water. It is served after dipping in tamarind water. The taste is......well..... heavenly.
In my experience of eating phuchka in various parts of the city for years I differentiate them in my own way. There are two kinds for me- Phuchka with tamarind water mixed with a good dose of cumin powder or without it. The taste obviously varies between the two varieties. The predominant flavour of the former is cumin and of the latter is tamarind. I prefer the latter. The latter may come as mixed with a scented variety of lemon (Gandharaj lebu to Bengalis) and that adds to the taste. The former, I've observed, is a hit with non-Bengalis.
The quality of phuchka depends on the following factors:
1. The crispiness of the phuchka (The ball made of flour/ atta).
2. The cooking medium used to fry the phuchka. I can't quite point out which is the preferred one, but the bottomline is that a good phuchka doesn't smell of oil.
3. The size of the phuchka. A true phuchka lover likes it medium to large but not small. Often the size determines which phuchkawala (Phuchka vendor) to go to.
4. It should not be overcooked or undercooked. Both are prevalent among rightly cooked ones and to be steered clear of.
5. The filling must be mixed well with all the ingredients. Since a phuchkawala does the mixing several times a day, a phuchka lover must keep a close eye if it is mixed the right way in front of his/ her eyes. If it has been mixed before he/ she came, it can be customized after the first piece is tasted.
6. The water must be neither too thick nor too light. Either of them can spoil the experience. It essentially means the concentration of meshed ripe tamarind in the water should be right.