During my time in India, I had the pleasure of volunteering with the Association of Indian Physicians of Northern Ohio (AIPNO), a varied group of health professionals wanting to help less medically advantaged rural Indians. I had read about their previous years’ work in Southeast Asia Backpacker’s magazine while in Thailand and decided that I wanted to be a part of their mission. We set up daily camps in numerous rural areas around Gujarat and Maharashtra throughout our three weeks. Specialists were able to find and diagnose conditions they rarely, if ever see in the US, and many boxes of medication were offered free of charge to people who have little to no access to doctors or pharmacies. Follow up care was arranged where necessary, and overall, I think several thousand Indians were able to benefit from the camps.

In my opinion, one of the best things about those three weeks was that we were fed daily. I was happy that I didn’t have the option of choosing my meals because if it were left to me, I would have chosen the things I knew. Luckily, we all ate the same meals which were served by the many local volunteers that offered their services and resources to us. The first evening after we arrived back from the camp, we were greeted with a light dinner of behl.

Behl is a mix of various components from crispy puffed rice and crunchy noodles to chopped veggies like onion and tomato, mixed with multiple chutneys into a melee of delightful textures and tastes. The kitchen ladies prepared our meal in individual containers so we could mix our own behl concoctions.

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Puffed rice, crispy noodles, cubed potatoes

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Chopped onions, tomatoes, cilantro, sweet tamarind chutney, green mint chutney, and ponc

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Ponc, brown crunchy noodles, more crispy noodles, and makhana (white kidney stone-shaped chunks of sugar)

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The final product after I ate half of it without remembering to take photos

I love this ubiquitous street food snack because of its blending of dry crunch with pulpy sogginess, the freshness mixed with sweet and mint. Texture is its main ingredient.

But wait. What is this ponc I keep listing? I was told by those who spoke Gujarati that ponc is a prematurely harvested millet that is eagerly anticipated for a short time every season. It is a small, green, and very tender grain with a slightly sweet wheaty flavor.

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The only comparable thing I could find on google about the name of this grass grain was something called bajra. I’m not sure if this is the same thing, but if you happen to know, feel free to correct me in the comments.

Overall, my three weeks of volunteering was the most rewarding time I spent in India. I ate great food, met amazing people, and feel like I helped in a small part to ease some of the pain many Indians endure on a daily basis. I would, without hesitation, recommend volunteering to anyone willing to give a little time to get something greater in return.

One Response to “Behl and Ponc”

  1. Lam
    16 April 2014 at 4:43 am #

    So…. Did you eat the cilantro? 🙂