This is the baap of all street foods. This is the one which no girl ever says no to. ‘Kaku aro jhaal dao’ (Uncle, please add more chillies) is a norm even if you happen to huff and puff and pant with the heat of the chillies. The tasty tangy tamarind water is the killer quotient. The real connoisseurs would vouch for the taste of the plain water instead of purified water and mineral water in some cases now. The dirtier the water, the tastier the phuchka. In the end haggling for a ‘phao’ or free piece of phuchka is a must.
The Roll is probably the next best staple food of all Bengalis after Macch Bhat. There is the Egg roll, Chicken roll and Mutton roll and hybrid versions like egg-chicken roll and egg-mutton roll. There is also the paneer roll for the veggies. Missed your lunch over a shopping spree at Gariahat? Never mind, just grab a roll and you are good to go. It’s heavy and stays in the stomach for a long time and yet quick and convenient. The foodies say that the Kolkata Kati-Rolls are different from the rest of India and probably one of the best ones.
3. Chow mein
If you happen to be passing an office area, you would be surprised to see the number of people who have chow mein for lunch or for an evening bite. There is very little similarity between the chow mein and the noodles you get in a Chinese restaurant but the street side chow mein is a must have. Every Kolkata resident would vouch for the chow mein. It is served with salads on top and tomato sauce that is actually pumpkin paste.
4. Aloo Kabli
All those who have studied in schools in West Bengal, would have had ‘aloo kabli’ at least once in their lives. For some it happened to be staple food. Take 2 or 3 rupees to School and gorge on them during recess or end of school. The potatoes mixed with grams, coriander, chillies, tamarind water and a special masala are still a favourite of a lot of people.
5. Ghugni Chaat
The beautifully decorated ghugni stalls with a part of ghugni being heated in the middle of the pan and the rest lined up across the glass case is a sight in itself. The drifting aroma draws you towards it and you inevitably end up having a plate. It is served with sliced cucumbers, onions, chillies and a slice of coconut. The inexpensive ghugni is quite a filler and a very tasty snack indeed.
6. Ghoti Gorom
This is perhaps the lightest of the street food that is available. You can have ghoti gorom even when you actually don’t want to have anything. The vendors carry the ghoti gorom stove on their shoulders and move along ringing a bell. It’s a mix of crisps, onions, chillies, chopped unripe mangoes and a special masala again. Yummy! Makes the tongue water.
7. Jhal Muri
If you have been in Kolkata even for a short while, you would not have missed this. Jhal Muri is basically a mix of puffed rice, onions, grams, crisps, peanuts, chanachur, chillies and a dash of mustard oil, all mixed together and served in paper packets called ‘thongas’ in Bengali. This is ubiquitous, inexpensive and light. It doesn’t feel heavy after eating and yet subsides the evening hunger. Tea and Jhal Muri is a deadly combo if you are watching your weight and need something to munch on in the evening.
8. Tele Bhaja
This in English literally means fried in oil. Tele bhaja or fried food is something that cannot be separated from a Bengali. Tele bhaja includes Samosas, ‘Begunis’ (Aubergine fritters), ‘Peyajis’ (Onion fritters) and most importantly ‘Chop’. There are several types of chop. It is a stuffing of various things deep fried in oil. You can have chicken chop, fish chop, potato chop and many more. Tele Bhaja with muri (puffed rice) on a wet evening is pure bliss!
9. Papri Chaat
This is a mix of boiled potatoes, grams, nuts, chanachur (I don’t know an English name for this), onions, coconuts, tangy tamarind and a sweet coloured chatni served on chips that are made from flour. It’s then garnished with a bit of curd and more coloured chatnis and a dash of coriander. Yummy! This just goes off in seconds.
Although Momos have caught the frenzy of the Kolkatans a little late, it has done amazingly well to be counted among the top street foods. This is considered a healthy street food as the momos are generally steamed. There is a fried version also available given the fascination of fried food of Bengalis. The momos come with a piping hot chicken or vegetable soup that has strangely no trace of chicken or vegetables but is yet very tasty.