Growing up in Kolkata telebhaja (literally means fried in oil, signifies fritters) was part of regular life. There were/are little shops all over the city selling fritters of various shapes, sizes and of course varieties-potato, onion, aubergine, beetroot, cauliflower, mixed veggies (depending on the season), lentils, shrimp, fish, mutton, egg.... the list goes on.
These shops are usually run by at least two people, one who does the all important job of frying the fritters and the other who serves the customers. Come early evening these shops would open with their pump stoves or coal ones (unoon) on, vegetables all chopped and arranged neatly, big vats of smoking hot oil and ready to dip batter. They would dip whichever variety you want and fry them fresh in front of you. In each batch they would fry 20 to 30 fritters and alternate between the varieties. Like after frying aubergine fritters they would next fry potato ones, so on and so forth.
All this fresh frying is time consuming, so there are often long queues of hungry people and a little jostling and arguments about who arrived first goes on in the side line. But only till the fritters are ready, once the fritters are out of the frying pan, people keep shouting their orders to the server. Usual conversation snippets floating around would be 'ayi amar char te beguni', (hey I want 4 aubergine fritters) 'ar amar 2 aloo or chop, 2 dal bora ar 4 te beguni, ami kintu anek khon dariye achi' (I need 2 potato fritters, 2 lentil ones and 4 aubergine ones and let me remind you I have been waiting for sometime).
These fritters are usually eaten with puffed rice (muri). They are served in little newspaper bags which often soak up the extra oil. The best bit of the fritters for me as a child was the sprinkling of rock salt (bit noon) on top. The salt added an extra dimension to the fritters and somehow made them more exciting to the kid-y me.
Apart from the common man/woman, famous Bengalis over the ages have been known to enjoy fritters with their evening tea. A few names from the top of my head--Ram Krishna Paramahansha and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The shops from where they used to eat, still exist and are fully functional.
Fritters are made at home as well, either served as snack or as the first course of a meal. They are a regular feature with our khichuri (rice and lentil mishmash, recipe and other details here).
Though these are regular evening snacks, on some days these fritters taste extra nice. For most Bengalis rainy evenings trigger an urge for gorom cha ar muri telebhaja (hot tea and puffed rice with fritters). Monsoons and fritters along with hot tea and puffed rice have a deep connection...and every Bong feels it (it is a bit like the call of the wild, though nothing as adventurous, though no less exciting!).
I had such an urge recently during a snowy evening. Sadly for me there was no shop in my neighbourhood where I could pop in to get my fill of fritters. I had to make them at home, was not much of a hassle, because they are fairly easy to make. Presenting you my mother's recipe for aubergine fritters.
|Slicing up the aubergine!|
One aubergine, cut into half and then thinly sliced
One cup of gram flour/besan
1 tea spoon of onion seeds/kalo jeere
1/2 tea spoon of red chilly powder (can increase or decrease the amount according to heat tolerance)
1/4th tea spoon of Bicarbonate of Soda/cooking soda (this is my mother's special touch, she says cooking soda makes the fritters really crunchy and also stops after eating indigestion and acidity)
Salt to taste (please add a little less than your usual quantity because the rock salt will also add a salty flavour)
Oil to deep fry the fritters
Rock salt to sprinkle on top
How To Make the Fritters: Mix the gram flour, onion seeds, red chilly powder, cooking soda and salt with about half a cup of water. You may need to add more water if the batter is too thick.
|The making of the batter!|
The whole exercise takes 15 to 20 minutes.
Sprinkle some rock salt on the fritters and they are ready to eat. Served with puffed rice and tea makes an awesome snack, guaranteed to earn you brownie points. And the puffed rice makes it not all unhealthy.
|Served in a rudimentary home-made newspaper cone (thonga)!|
|Take a bite of the fritter, the coating should be crisp and crunchy |
while the aubergine inside should be soft and fleshy...
|Check out these cute little wooden clips that I used to make the newspaper cone.|
I picked these up in a craft store!