A guide to Kolkata Phuchka; all that you wanted to know.
Kolkata has so much to offer to every single person who sets foot on this land. When it comes to food, Kolkata can take you through the best culinary experience. Street food, food on the move, world cuisine in localised flavours (ever had Chinese noodles, cooked the bangaali way with panch phoron?) food from the royal kitchen, fishes of every shape and size in every possible sauce, mishti, Kathi kebab rolls anyone??. For today’s menu, I have got stuck on the shorbopriyo Phuchka.
Never have my north Indian friends take pride in their gol gappas, as we bongs take pride in our phuchkas. Phuchkas are our legacy, tamarind water mixed with secret spices run in our veins for generations. Every Jamai babu needs to qualify by gulping down a certain number of phuchkas before we hand over our daughter’s hand,. As our daughter is a pro at devouring a score of phuchkas in no time.
Phuchka is also known as Pani puri, pakodi or gol gappas in other regions of our diverse nation. It has a very strong presence in every Bengali Galli. A Kolkata Galli is incomplete without the omnipresent Phuchka wala. The phuchka wala is synonymous to a man with his wicker stand and a huge basket of phuchka wrapped in a red cloth (no-no that’s not the red loincloth which a few people from a certain area take pride in). Lokkhon da, Kelo da, Batul da, Kochu da, Montu, Raju their cousins, along with their family members have risen to fame nationally selling the humble Phuchka. So have places, like Garia Bata, Vivekananda Park, Dakshinapan, Newmarket, Vardaan market and many more, they have comfortably taken seats in the Khao Gali map of Kolkata.
The secret recipe for super tasty phuchkas
Many didis, kakimas, boudis and jethimas tried dishing out this wonder at the comfort of their kitchen. Boudis tried to gain popularity within the family, but there was something amiss. Wondering what the secret recipe is? Every snack that is popular has a secret recipe. It is kept under wraps in a digital locker and is passed on to the next generation, only when they come of age and show interest and passion in the trade (a la Coca-cola).
Our Kelo da too has his own secret recipe for making such yummilicious phuchkas, which leaves you craving for more.
Phuchkas taste best during monsoon or summer, ever wondered why? Well, I have been following the entire process of phuchka making for a while now, just to steal the secret recipe. Right from the time, they mix the dough with their weary legs, yes you heard it right, legs. Because their hands are too busy checking WhatsApp, updating their FB profile and toggling for top 10 Bhojpuri hits. The first thing, right after their early morning biological routine, is to start kneading the phuchka dough diligently.
They are happy to include the munnas and munnis of the family to help them in their family-run beejnez. Munna dances away to glory with happy feet on the dough to the latest track, “Tadpe la mor chadjal jawaani kable lagan lagi….”. Soon after the dough is ready Kishan’s wife gulabo along with her mother in law, neighbour’s sister in law and the entire jing bang doles out a few hundred small balls. Flattens them and fry them to a golden-yellow crispy ball of wonder, over gossips on the new Bahu at home. All in a day’s work I say! Kelo da carries a tempo load of phuchka from Kishan’s house and sets up shop at the four-point crossing of the para just under the light post which rarely lights up. After laying his wicker stand with the support of bricks and concrete which he stacks in one corner of the opposite shop, he pours gallons of the magic potion into the huge stainless steel drum. Kelo adds tamarind pulp, some finely chopped coriander leaves, slices of gondho lebu, beat lobon and a fishy looking brown masala powder (we do not add fish, we spare the phuckas). With all the dust and grime still stuck on Kelo from tip to toe, he happily dips his entire hand into the drum full of water to mix the concoction. In an attempt to reach the bottom of the container he rolls up his sleeves and dips his hand, till his armpit hair is drenched with tamarind water.
He uses his hand as a spoon to create a whirlwind of a concoction. In the sweltering heat, droplets of sweat roll over his temple and drip non-stop on the container while kelo happily creates the wonder water. Ah, now I know the secret recipe, this was Kelo’r kirti….Kelo quickly wipes his hand in his dhoti which he wears every evening for work and prefers washing it only on Mondays, his off day.
He attends to the constable who comes on time for his hafta wasoli. Kelo happily digs out a wad of note from a remote corner of his striped under pant and gets back to work churning the tamarind water. Did I mention that Kelo has a recurrent cough? Occupational hazard must say. Due to his long hours of exposure to pollution and his hands mostly dipped in the drum full of sweet n sour water, he is prone to cough and cold. One solitary corner of his dhoti does justice in keeping his nostrils fresh and clean. When there is the versatile dhoti, why does one need a napkin? Kelo’s expert hands mash potato, chickpea and other spices like a pro, his hand flies in the air with an occasional stir in the drum. Even before Kelo finishes preparing his cartload of goodies for the evening, a few boudis flock for Phuchkas. Boudis have to wait, as Kelo would soon return after a short biological break.
Different shades of Phuchka
Wine would go red with envy getting to know the varieties of Phuchkas available in town. Vodka phuchka any one? Yes, Phuchkas served with a copious amount of your favourite vodka is served in many fine dining restaurants with elan. The master blaster phucka walas, the gurus of the dynasty are found on Vivekananda road.
The humble Dilip da specialises in Doi Phuchka, Mishti phuchka, Ghugni Phuchka, Chocolate Phuchka and many more… Dilip da has made it global, with his ever-innovative phuchkas which are packed by resident Kolkatans and send to near and dear ones staying out of Kolkata.
PYT of every Kolkata household is the prime and potential customers of Phuchkas. Mithu along with her friends on their way back home from school, have to halt at Poltu’s for a couple of Phuchkas every day. This is a part of their daily routine, which has been on from the time Mithu upgraded from the blue skirt and white shirt to a feminine Salwar kameez at school. Now Poltu even without asking passes on a Phao(extra phuchka) to all her friends with a shy smile on his face.
It is for all the Mithus and the Buris, that Poltu has a two-storeyed house. He sends both his children to an English medium school, got his paternal house repaired in his native place and also got his younger sister married last year. It is a known fact that people have bought acres of land in their homeland by selling the humble Phuchkas in Kolkata. Biltu looks at his mom’s ever-increasing tummy almost touching the Phuchka basket while he awaits his turn for a dry phuchka. Mom continues munching on the delicacy till she burps out a few droplets of sour water and indicates with her chubby hands to Poltu, to stop serving the wonder balls. While the rest is for Biltu. It is customary to ask Poltu, “amar koto holo?” even when Biltu”s mom has kept a count of the wonder balls that she gulped. Titu and his group of friends are regulars at Poltu’s, since childhood.
They are at the mercy of Poltu at the drop of a hat. Be it their para’s win at the inter para football match or Titu’s friend Pota a backbencher, scoring the highest in maths. Poltu maintains a credit book for all the defaulters, especially the para dadas who promise to clear the dues every month.
Well, the la-di-das are often seen surrounding the skinny phuchka wala at Vardaan market, nibbling on the phuchkas with their latest Revlon stained red beaks. Aromas of Gucci, Elizabeth Arden and Nina Ricci mix up with the odour of sour tamarind and freshly chopped coriander leaves and lime with a tinge of stench from the nearby open drain. An ideal ambience to taste the best phuchkas for many.
In an attempt to save her freshly painted telons, Saakshi misses her first Phuchka which lands straight on her Tommy Hilfiger short dress gifted to her by her ex….. Sad!! Time to buy another one honey. Ritika smiles, “mujhey choto choto phuchka dena” so that she saves her heavily layered fluorescent pink lips. Only two each, and they are done…”pet bhar gaya..let’s go gals..” The Chauffer waits for his Madam in the “No parking area” till she races towards her BMW least the traffic police sets a fine.
The golden-brown wonder gets richer
Well to the envy of the Lokkhon da’s of Kolkata, Phuchkas have gone glocal. Seeing the popularity of the humble hollow fried balls, many a fine dining restaurant and luxury hotels have included the golden wonder in their heavily ornamental menu card. Which, once was restricted to world cuisines only. Ooh laa..laa…laa..Phuckas here are mentioned as, ‘round hollow bread, crispy fried with virgin olive oil and served with tamarind extract and exotic organic spices from the land of the east and low calorie mashed potato”.
Served to perfection, pale brown tamarind water in crystal shot glasses. Phuchkas, neatly seated like a king above every glass, crowned with a single piece of chickpea and a coriander leaf waiting to be relished. While an immaculately dressed steward offers to prepare each phuchka with distinctive etiquette, hands it over to you with his antique silver tongs. You keep your silver spoon and fork aside only to hold the humble hollow puri with your fingers and land it on your tongue. In the bargain, the tamarind juice spoils the spotless white napkin.
The steward gives a dirty look and then offers to change it for an orange self-design napkin. Did it taste as good as it tasted last time at Potla da’s who sits with his Phuchka thela right adjacent to the Tolly nala? Iam sure it wasn’t half the taste, for Potla da has his own secret recipe.
A die-hard fan of Kolkata phuchka, I can have phuchka and churmur for breakfast, lunch and dinner with absolutely no guilt and zero complaints….
Ciao!! till we meet for a Phuchka party.