Trainwali Bhel refers to the dry bhel that you get in paper cones, on moving trains. It is a simple mix of ingredients that is not messy to eat, but super delicious. Let me show you how to make this (dry) Sukha Bhel in today’s blog post, served with a generous dose of nostalgia for long train rides and those carefree days when we seemed to have all the time in the world.
Long train rides, Sukha Bhel, nostalgia and more
I have extremely fond memories, as a young schoolgirl, of the dry bhel served on moving trains, by vendors who kept getting on and off at different stations. Years ago, when we stayed in Ahmedabad, we would undertake long train journeys in the summer holidays – to Bangalore or Chennai, usually – to visit my mom’s family down South. We would carry home-made food for the almost 36-hour journey, and I would be thrilled to see these chaat vendors with their huge baskets, metal containers (often repurposed from tin oil cans) filled with puffed rice, grated carrots, lemons, finely chopped onions and other accoutrements. The Sukha Bhel that they dished up would look mouth-wateringly delicious, but would have a questionable hygiene quotient.
Arguments with mom would follow – she won sometimes, I won at other times. The few times she let me have the bhel, I remember it being a blissful experience eating it – maybe it was the thrill of a hard-won snack, or the glee of having something different from the usual podi idlis and curd rice that my mom religiously packed for the journey. Maybe the massive waves of nostalgia I am rolling around in right now make me feel so. 🙂
As a family, we hardly take long train rides any more – we never seem to have the luxury of journeying for 30 hours or more to reach our destination. Covid put paid even to the shorter train journeys we sometimes used to undertake. This is an experience I feel sad the bub is missing out on – packed food, watching stations whizz by out of the windows, vendors calling out their wares, reading at leisure, stretching out whenever you get a chance because your muscles are taut from sitting for so long, et al – but it is what it is!
Ingredients used in Trainwali Bhel
Trainwali Bhel is made by mixing up several dry ingredients, so it is easy to prepare and eat on a moving train. Unlike the regular bhel poori available in restaurants, this version is made without any chutneys. A handful of sev and mixture (or chivda) is mixed with roasted puffed rice, along with grated carrots, finely chopped tomato, onion and cucumber, and coriander. Dry spice powders like red chilli powder, chaat masala and roasted cumin powder are used to flavour the bhel, as is a dash of lemon juice.
I have often recreated the Trainwali Bhel at home – albeit in more hygienic settings – and have my own recipe for it, arrived at after several trials and tribulations. I find that adding some powdered sugar makes the bhel even more flavourful.
Check out the detailed recipe for Trainwali Bhel below, the way I make it. It does not require too many ingredients and comes together in a jiffy. This bhel is quite similar to Churmuri, a streetside snack in Karnataka. Some vendors of Churmuri do add a sweet-sour tamarind chutney to it, though, which this train version does not contain.
How to make Trainwali Bhel| (Dry) Sukha Bhel
Here is how I go about it.
Ingredients (serves 2):
1. 3 big fistfuls of roasted puffed rice (pori/murmura)
2. 1 fistful of fine sev
3. 1 fistful of readymade mixture
4. 1 baby carrot
5. 1/2 of a medium-sized onion
6. 1/2 of a medium-sized cucumber
7. 1 small tomato
8. 1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander
9. Red chilli powder to taste
10. 1/4 teaspoon chaat masala
11. Salt to taste
12. 2 teaspoons of powdered sugar or to taste
13. 1/2 teaspoon roasted cumin (jeera) powder
14. Juice of 1/2 lemon or to taste
1. We will start by prepping the veggies needed for the Sukha Bhel. Peel the onion and carrot. Grate the carrot medium thick, and chop the onion finely. Chop up the cucumber and tomato finely. Keep ready.
2. Take the roasted puffed rice in a large mixing bowl. Add in the sev and mixture.
3. Add the grated carrot, and the chopped onion, tomato and cucumber. Add in the finely chopped coriander too.
4. Add in salt, red chilli powder, chaat masala, roasted cumin powder and powdered sugar.
5. Add in the lemon juice to the mixing bowl.
6. Mix all the ingredients in the mixing bowl well. Your Sukha Bhel is ready. Serve immediately.
Related Event: Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge
I am sharing this recipe in association with the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge, a group of passionate food bloggers that I am part of.
The members of the Shhh Cooking Secretly Challenge share recipes based on a pre-decided theme, every month. The members are divided into pairs for the purpose of the challenge. Each pair exchanges two ingredients secretly, unknown to the rest of the group. These two secret ingredients are then used by each member to prepare a dish that fits into the theme of the month. When their dish is ready, each member posts a picture of the same in the group, and the other members try to guess the two secret ingredients that have been used therein. I have been a part of this group for years now, and it has been a fun and challenging learning experience, all at once.
For the month of April 2023, Seema of Mildly Indian proposed the theme ‘Railway Recipes’, wherein bloggers could share how to prepare foods which they have enjoyed on train journeys. These could be dishes they carried from home or which were served on the train, by vendors or the pantry car. Needless to say, the theme induced nostalgia in most group members, and we had a great time wading through fond memories of train travels past to zero in on a recipe we could showcase. Seema prepared this absolutely delicious Indian Railways Aloo Curry for the theme which you have got to check out!
I was paired with Aruna of Vasu’s Veg Kitchen for the challenge. She suggested I make something using the ingredients ‘chaat masala‘ and ‘lemon juice’, which fit right into the Trainwali Bhel recipe I had been thinking of showcasing. I gave Aruna the ingredients ‘groundnuts’ and ‘red chillies’, and she prepared this lovely Pulihora she remembers carrying on train journeys with her family.
This recipe is made using all-vegetarian and vegan ingredients. It is suitable for people following a plant-based diet.
Chaat masala has been used in making this bhel, which often contains asafoetida. It is, therefore, advisable to avoid the chaat masala if you are following a gluten-free diet – you may use a dash of black salt instead.
I have roasted the puffed rice with minimal oil. There is a little store-bought mixture and some powdered sugar used in this bhel, while the other ingredients are clean.
You can use puffed wheat rice (available in several departmental stores in Bangalore) instead of the puffed rice I have used here.
Tips & Tricks
1. Make sure the roasted puffed rice is crispy, for best results. Sometimes, if the puffed rice has been roasted prior and has been sitting around, it can lose its crispiness. In that case, give it a brief roasting in a wide pan till it crisps up.
2. I have roasted the puffed rice with some salt and turmeric here, using regular refined oil. If you like the flavour of ghee or coconut oil, you can use either of these to roast the puffed rice.
3. Be careful while adding salt to the Sukha Bhel. The puffed rice as well as the chaat masala both already contain some amount of salt.
4. You may use finely chopped green chillies instead of the red chilli powder I have used here. I prefer avoiding green chillies in this dish.
5. Sometimes, roasted puffed rice has red chilli powder and/or sugar powder added to it. In that case, do adjust the quantity of red chilli powder and sugar powder you add to the Sukha Bhel.
6. Use only powdered sugar while making the Sukha Bhel, as it gets well incorporated with the other ingredients. Grainy refined sugar is difficult to mix in.
7. Adjust the quantity of lemon juice you use depending upon personal taste preferences.
8. I have used readymade South Indian mixture from Bambino, which contains peanuts, fried gram and crispies. Instead of mixture, you may add in North Indian-style chivda or a handful of crisp-roasted peanuts and papdi.
9. A dash of black salt can also be added to the Sukha Bhel if you so prefer. I have avoided it because I wanted to keep the recipe really simple, close to the way this bhel is actually made by vendors in running trains.
10. Use fine sev only, for best results. Do not use the thick variety of sev.
11. Serve this Sukha Bhel immediately after preparation. Not consuming it immediately might make it soggy and alter its taste.
12. Often, I have seen train travellers carrying the ingredients for this bhel from home, and then mixing it up for a snack on the train. You could do the same, too.
13. Pomegranate arils and/or raw mango (when in season) are great additions to this Trainwali Bhel.
Did you like this recipe? Do tell me, in your comments!