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As Durga Puja festivities unfold, Kolkata opens its streets to some of the best-kept culinary secrets
Durga Puja is a time of extravagant festivities in most Bengali homes and neighbourhoods. As larger-than-life pandals - with themes varying from Star Wars to the Eiffel Tower in Paris - are set up on one end, the quest to curate culinary perfection starts on the other. Food is an integral part of the pujo festivities and it is almost a ritual to take your fill of the snacks that the streets of Kolkata cater. From consuming copious amounts of kathi rolls to digging into jhaal muri, there's a lot to do in the food fair of Durga Puja. Here are some unmissable items that you must try in the city of joy, Kolkata.
Phuchka: Almost every nook and corner of Kolkata has a phuchka stall. During Durga Puja celebrations, these kiosks buzz with activity as throngs of people come out to try the spicy, sweet, sour, tangy and savoury balls of water (called pani puri in North India). These bite-sized deep-fried balls filled with tangy tamarind water, boiled and diced potatoes and chickpeas are a street culinary experience that cannot be missed.
Biryani: Kolkata mutton biryani is a particular favourite during the Durga Puja celebrations and is generously served. Prepared with soft chunks of meat, aromatic rice and signature potatoes, it is a delight that is said to have been derived from the Awadhi biryani. As the story goes, the 10th Nawab of Awadh, Wajid Ali Shah, was banished from his capital Lucknow by the British, after which he settled in Kolkata with his family with a bevy of chefs. The bawarchis or chefs soon curated a Kolkata version of biryani that is signified by the use of potatoes, which were very economical at that time.
Jhaal muri: Jhaal muri or spicy puffed rice is a light snack that is relished by one and all. A fusion of eclectic ingredients like chana chur (a deep-fried spicy mixture), onion, ginger, chillies, roasted peanuts, cucumber, potatoes, black chana, tamarind water, mustard oil and coriander, Jhaal muri is a must-try during Durga puja.
Ghugni: Ghugni is a spicy chickpea curry that can be bought at almost every street-side eatery. It is generally prepared with boiled yellow peas, tomatoes, chilli and chopped onion, and garnished with coriander leaves. It is generally served piping hot with lime juice and chutney.
Mughlai parantha: A golden-textured flaky flatbread made with flour and stuffed with eggs and mutton keema, Mughlai parantha is a mouthwatering option in the snack menu while hopping from one pandal to another. While mutton is a popular stuffing in the paranthas, the vegetarian counterparts include vegetables like red beans, carrots and onions. It is said that Usman, one of the chefs in Mughal emperor Jehangir's kitchens, came up with this dish. As the chef was from Bengal, his famed recipe across the region!
Papdi Chaat: Papdi chaat is a crunchy, sweet and tangy snack. It is served with chickpeas, boiled potatoes, sprouts, tomato, onions, curd, chilli and sweet chutney. A sprinkling of chaat masala, lemon juice and rock salt rounds out the flavour.
Fish kabiraji: This is a cutlet made of fish, coated with breadcrumbs and deep-fried. It has a delicate lacy layer of whipped eggs on the top that makes it fluffy. The cutlets can also be made with chicken, prawn or minced mutton. They are usually served with carrots, cucumber salad and kasundi (a tangy mustard sauce). Experts say it's derived from the English word “coverage” and was introduced to the state by the British. Luchi aloo dum: A favourite snack during the Durga Puja festivities, luchi dum is served at almost every pandal. While luchi is a fried flatbread made with white flour, aloo dum is a spicy and sweet potato curry. The curry is creamy while the potatoes are crispy, creating a medley of flavours.
Chops: Most streetside kiosks serve chops throughout Kolkata. These are spicy potato cakes that are round in shape. They are stuffed with meat, fish, eggs or vegetables and served with slightly fermented ground mustard. Sometimes, the juice of an unripe mango is sprinkled for zing. It is said that chops are taken from European cuisine that was introduced by the British and the Portuguese. Today, the mashed potatoes, braised cutlets and Scotched eggs of the British are fused with Indian spices to make Bengali chops.
Kathi Rolls: A wholesome snack that bombards your tastebuds with a multitude of flavours, Kathi roll is a must-try on the streets of Kolkata. The roll consists of a flatbread made with all-purpose flour that is stuffed with marinated and sauteed chicken. The flatbread is lined and cooked with egg and thus is quite fluffy. Before the bread is rolled, it is slathered with chilli and tomato sauces and then garnished with onions, chillies, cilantro and cucumber.
Ghoti Gorom: A quintessential Bengali snack, ghoti gorom comprises chana chur (spiced mixture), chopped onions, chillies and roasted peanuts tossed with masalas and condiments.
Dimer Devil: One of the most popular snacks in Kolkata is Dimer Devil, where the Bengali word 'dim' means egg. In this delicious snack, half hard-boiled eggs are wrapped in a spicy potato filling, then rolled in breadcrumbs and deep-fried. It is usually had with piping hot tea and kasundi.
Cha (Chai): There a number of shacks across Kolkata that serve piping hot tea. During the Durga Puja celebrations, tea is a much-loved brew around which most family reunions happen and gossip is exchanged. Having them in little earthen cups is a delightful experience that somehow adds a rustic flavour to the tea. You can opt for cakes and biscuits to go along with your brew. And in case someone offers you shingara with tea, don't think much. Shingara is the Bengali name for the popular Indian snack, samosa!
Chinese: Kolkata's version of chowmein, just like its potato biryani, is signature and sumptuous. Most street stalls during the pujo serve steel plates piled with tomato sauce-drenched noodles garnished with a generous amount of raw onions and cucumber. This greasy snack is not only tummy-filling but soul-satiating.