Sunday, January 22, 2012

Papri Chat: A Favourite Street Food



Papri Chat is one of my favourite chats. I have grown up eating this chat from Bhagonti's tiny food van in the narrow alley next to Basanta Debi College in Gariahaat, Kolkata. How I love their jhal muris, papri chats and aloo kablis. May the father and the son duo flourish forever and continue churning out this amazing stuff. 

Though out of context, I have to mention the puchka walla who stands just next to Bhagonti's in the alley. I fondly call him buro (old man). He is a feisty old fellow and easily serves one of the best puchkas in Kolkata. His puchkas are big, amazingly light and super crisp and his mashed potato mix is an awesome blend of spices, chillies, cilantro, boiled chola/grams and tangy tamarind and lime juice. And the tok jol (literally sour water, basically water infused with tamarind, spices, rock salt and lime juice) that he serves after the puchka is just out of the world. I firmly believe that a cup or two of that sublime tok jol can cure just about any form of indigestion.

Back to buro, our private joke was that once his buri (literal translation old woman, in this context means wife) dies, (God bless her soul, she lives in Bihar and is happily unaware of buro's plans), will marry me because I was such a big fan of his puchkas. I am talking about the early 2000s when I still lived in Kolkata and with alarming regularity used to pop in there. Now buro has really become old and his nephew has taken over. That guy is good, but nowhere the genius his uncle is. So whenever I am there, I insist on buro serving me. Throwing away his beedi (Indian local  hand rolled cigarette), buro grumbles a whole lot while starting the puchka procedure. But he is a sweetheart and gives me plenty of phau (free, in puchka world you have to ask for a phau at the end of each session. It is a norm, as sanctified as tipping waiters in restaurants.  There is a little routine here. Once you have asked for the phau, the puchka walla will grumble and pretend that you are cheating him off his inheritance. But if you don't, chances are, he will offer you one anyway and  be disappointed on missing out on a grumbling session!). After you have had buro's puchkas and Bhagonti's papri chat, to cool down all that heat fighting for supremacy in your tummy, you have to have strawberry ice lollies from the Koolfi ice cream wallah (vendor) sitting at the beginning of the alley. Priced a humble 5 rupees it is the best ice lolly I have ever had in my life.

Okay nostalgia sated, time get back to the papri chat (Kolkata istyle)!

Ingredients:
A packet of papri from any Indian namkeen wallah (confectionery). Chances are they also serve papri chat in the shop. A quick fix?
2 medium sized boiled potatoes, sliced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
Two green chillies, finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
Fresh coriander leaves, chopped
A tea spoon of mustard oil
2 tea spoons of tamarind chutney-- Maggie sells it in bottles, I make my own, following my mother's recipe  and  store it in a big bottle in the fridge
A pinch or two of salt, rock salt, red chilli powder and a table spoon of dhone bhaja ar guro (roast whole coriander seeds and a couple of dried red chilies and mix them in a grinder. This is an super flavorful  masala and come in handy in all kinds of snacks and vegetarian dishes)
Handful of salted peanuts
Handful of sewo bhaja or sev-- source again Indian confectionery
A sliver or two of fresh coconut, chopped if you prefer it that way
Some people like it with yogurt, I do not. If interested two table spoons of yogurt

Preparation time: Half an hour
Putting together time: 5 to 10 mins

For the authentic feel, in a shal pata (customary serving dish of Kolkata snacks) or a paper plate or any plate or pasta bowl arrange six papris in a circle and place on in the middle. Sprinkle a little rock salt, a pinch of lime juice and a drop of the tamarind chutney on each papri and spread it evenly on the same.
In a mixing bowl, mix all the ingredients except the coconut and the sev. If adding yogurt, please add it at this stage. Then take a spoon and ladle a bit of the mixture on each papri, add a little more of the chutney, lime juice, rock salt on the top and finish off with generous serving of sev and garnish it with slivers of coconut and chopped coriander leaves. And oh yes crush a couple of dry papris on top just like the jhal muri wallah!


P.S. It tastes pretty much the way Bhagonti's does. But prepared in hygienic conditions and eaten from ceramic plates using spoons (God forbid) in the comforts of  home in cold, grey London does not do justice to this snack.

It should be ideally consumed....
  • While balancing your shopping bags in one hand and using the other to cram the puchka or the papri greedily into your mouth, till an exasperated buro takes away your bags for safe keeping
  • Fighting with other greedy customers for speedy service, biggest portion and of course phaus
  • Jostling for dear life with the sari and bed cover thirsty mashimas and pishimas (aunts, elderly women) out shopping in Gariahaat
  • Being rudely disturbed by a honking car trying to wedge its way into the alley
  • Being deafened by the sound of the generator in the next door sari shop and being scorched by its angry fumes
  • Sweating  buckets since the temperature is in mid 30s and humidity is all pervasive or struggling to keep your umbrella steady in the rains
**Sigh**
 Like we say in Bangla-- 'doi er swad ghol ee metao' badly translated satisfy your yogurt craving with watered down yogurt drink! Yeah that is what I am doing, pretty much!

3 comments:

  1. Oh I love the description of the puchka buro and eating puchkas. Reminds me of when I was in India, age 5, eating puchkas and wondering for yeaaaaaaaaaaars literally after moving to Singapore, age 6, what is that wonderful thing we used to eat on the street that was sour and crispy and slightly sweet and had this heavenly out of this world smell in the food (from the kala namak?)
    Thanks for the post!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ah the smell...I guess it is an amalgamation of kala namak/bit noon, jeera masala and lime juice all put together...just out of curiosity so did you have puchaka ever, afterwards? :-)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Enjoyed the post..buro and buri..hilarious!

    ReplyDelete

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