“When people wore hats and gloves, nobody would dream of eating on the street. Then white gloves went out of style and, suddenly, eating just about anything in the street became OK.”
– Jane Addison, quoted in the Great Food Almanac by Irena Chalmers
Street food in Kolkata epitomizes the pada (neighborhood) culture. Having something at the nearest roadside vendor is not only about eating and fulfilling ones gastronomic urges, but it is also a means of having food with family, friends and sometimes even strangers. Street foods that are in vogue are phuchka, jhal muri, papri chat, muri makha, vegetable chop, and beguni, but phuchka ranks above all. Someone from South Calcutta won’t find it a pain to travel all the way to Bowbazar (for the uninitiated in Calcutta’s geography, Bowbazar is almost an hour drive from South Calcutta) just to confront his friends that the phuchka wala at his pada is better than theirs.
Now, by “street food”, I don’t mean what one can get in the big or even the small restaurants, roadside food is that what you get from the makeshift stalls on the foot path of whole of Bengal. There are also other names for it in the different states of India. Some call it Pani Puri, some golgappa. But if you ask any Calcuttan he/she will say phuchka is definitely different from golgappa or panipuri. The difference may be obscure, probably it’s only the colloquial term that varies, but there is a little difference in one of the ingredients that significantly differentiates phuchka from all its synonyms. The vendors in Bengal use gandhoraj lebu (a typical lemon produced in suburbs of Bengal) to flavor the filling and the tamarind water of phuchka. And this is where all the difference is.
Kolkata street food is such a rage, that there are places in different part of India and even abroad holding “Calcutta street food festival”. When I started having phuchka, as far as I remember it was 5 for a rupee and the last time I had it back in Kolkata I got three for two rupees. Though here in Bangalore there are places where you get pani puri that almost tastes like those back in Kolkata, but are highly priced. Talking about phuchka, I can’t leave the phuckhwalas, people who sell the phuchka. They are mostly from Bihar/Jharkhand, and you just can’t beat them with their style of the phuchka preparation.
Cooking time: 8-10min
Preparation time: 12min
Makes 20 phuchka
- Phuchka balls: 20
- Potato(Alu): 2 large
- Whole Bengal gram (Chola): 2 tablespoon, soaked
- Green chili (Kacha Lanka): 4, chopped finely
- Cumin (Jeera): 1 teaspoon, roasted and then grinded
- Lemon juice (Pati lebu ras): 1 teaspoon
- Cilantro (Dhane pata): Chopped to 2 tablespoon
- Tamarind pulp (Tetul): 4 tablespoon
- Salt to taste
- Boil the potatoes with the skin on, peel off after boiling and mash properly so that no lumps remain
- Add soaked bengal gram green chili, cumin powder, lemon juice, one tablespoon of cilantro to the mashed potato and mix well
- Take the tamarind pulp in a big bowl and add 2 cups of water to it with salt and the rest of the cilantro, mix well
- Add 2 tablespoon of the tamarind water to the mashed potatoes and keep the rest aside
- Break just the upper part of one phuchka ball and put in one teaspoon of the filling, fill the other balls also similarly
- Serve with the rest of the tamarind water
Hot Tips – Though not the basic component, you may also like to add some chopped onions to the filling to make it spicier.