There’s a CCD right next to my house and every time I walk by it its tagline stares at me — A lot can happen over Coffee. My mother loves the label, don’t ask me why! May be because she doesn’t love phuchkas. But for the rest of us Bongs “a lot can happen over phuchkas”…and coffee doesn’t even figure anywhere in that picture. No, I’m not talking about gol gappas or paani puris. I’m talking about pure and unadulterated phuchkas. I don’t think I need to introduce anyone to phuchkas. For those who live in/been to the city, you know what I’m talking about. For those who haven’t, you must have heard so much about it from your Bong friends and relatives that I won’t possibly be able to add anything to your knowledge. Phuchka is something without which the life of a Bengali is incomplete. phuchka is what keeps us alive. Phuchka is our go-to snack (almost) every evening. Many a joke has been circulated regarding the way a phuchka mixture gets made (which I’m not going to share here because you might end up thinking I made it the same way!), but still we are undeterred, relentless.
Calcutta streets are dotted with phuchka-wallahs at every lane and alley, every corner of the street, and every juncture of two roads. With sunset appear those mostly mustachioed men with their cart — a huge container of phuchka, wrapped in a red cloth, a tiny lamp flickering in front of it and containers of aloo, chana, chillies and masalas held together by a rope that ties all of them in a circular pattern. At one end of the arrangement is the huge steel bucket that houses the tetul jol (tamarind water) which every customer eyes more than the real thing. They stand in circular queues around a phuchka cart, shaal pata folded in a triangle in their hands, waiting eagerly for their share. The phuchkas are distributed in rotation. Shoppers, wanderers, lovers, students, corporate honchos, jobless — I have seen everyone in that queue. You eat one and then wait for the rest of the queue to finish their turn before it comes back to you. When the line is huge, now that is the true test of your patience. On the other hand, when the queue consists of 3-4 people, many struggle with finishing off their share before the next turn already is underway. The customary “Ekta phau dao (give an extra one)” or “Ar ektu jol dao (Give some more water) are regularly heard after your quota is finished, and the phuchkawallahs oblige with great promptness. After all it lies in little things like these that keep your customer coming back. “Er kachhe khaabi? Na, na morer mathar lok tar kachhe chol, o phau dey! (You want to have phuchkas from this guy? Let’s go to that one at the head of the street, he gives extras!”
Phuchkawallahs are better known by the place where they stand with their cart. So you have the Dakshinapan-er phuchka, Vivenkanada Park er phuchka, Basanti Devi College-er phuchka, Golpark Auto Stand-er phuchka, Kalyan Bhavan er phuchka…and the list is endless. We all have our favourite phuchka wallas, but we never really shy away from having it anytime, anywhere.
Another thing we love doing with phuchkas is enter into competitions. It gives a field day to the vendors and they, not surprisingly, egg us on to eat more and more! Whenever my friend T is in town, she inevitably has a phuchka competition with my dad. I remember another time when a friend back in my hostel days gulped down 50 phuchkas as part of a competition. Now he was not used to eating spicy street food and the repercussions completely freaked him out.
|No, these do not belong to any Calcutta vendor. And you should be able to guess that given these are made of sooji. You can find these colourful phuchka-lets at the Minto Road Pujo in New Delhi.|
I have so many phuchka tales up my sleeve that trying to write it all down would mean that I give up my job, my Eat Like a Bong project and everything else that keep me occupied. So I leave you with this recipe that is as easy as daylight. If you don’t feel like braving out the sea of people, stand in a jostled queue to eat phuchkas out of the sweaty and grimy hands of a phuchkawalla this Pujo, you can absolutely make this at home. But however much I have “homemade” phuchkas, I know for sure that the next time I go pandal-hopping, I won’t come back without popping a few of those delightful little wonders in my mouth!
Serves: Well, with phuchka, you never know! As the saying in my family goes “Luchi ar phuchka kokhono gune khete nei (You should never keep a count of how many luchis or phuchkas you’re eating!)
Phuchkas: 40 (I used store-bought)
For the filling:
Potatoes, boiled: 4
Kala chana (Bengal gram whole), soaked overnight: 1/3 cup
Red chilli powder: 1.5 tsp
Rock salt: to taste
Chaat masala: 2-3 tsp
Bhaja Masala: 1 tsp (make it at home by first roasting and then grinding a couple of bay leaves, some coriander seeds, cumin seeds and dry red chillies into a powder)
Lime juice: Of 1/2 a lime
Coriander leaves: Finely chopped: 1/2 cup
For the phuchka-r jol:
Tamarind: 1 medium handful. say 30 gm
Green chillies: 4
Red chilli powder: 1 tsp
Rock salt: to taste
Cumin powder: 2 tsp
Chaat masala: 2 tsp
Bhaja masala: 1 tsp
1. For the water: Soak the tamarind in a cup of water for 15-20 minutes. After this time, the flavour of the tamarind will permeate through the water. Use your fingertips to fiddle with the tamarind submerged in water so that maximum flavour is released. Now take strainer and strain the water out in a big container. Immerse the same tamarind in another cup of water. Repeat the process and strain in the same big container. Discard the tamarind.
2. Grinder 4 green chillies into a paste and put that in the tamarind water. Give a good mix and again strain out the water so that it is free of any chilli flesh or seeds.
3. Now add the rock salt, chaat masala, cumin powder, bhaja masala and chilli powder and mix well. Add more water (depending on how dilute you want it to be) and refrigerate.
4. Boil the lentils for three whistles in the pressure cooker. Mash the boiled potatoes while they are still warm with the back of a bowl. Now add to the mashed potato the boiled lentils. Crumble them as you add them. Add the rock salt, chaat masala, bhaja masala, chilli powder, green chillies and lime juice. Ladle some tamarind water and add to the potato mixture. Add the coriander. Mix everything well together.
5. For the assembly: Take one phuchka at a time, make a hole in its centre. Fill it with some potato mixture. Dunk it in the tamarind water so that the water fills up at least half of your phuchka. Pop the entire thing in your mouth. Repeat till you’re so full that you can’t move.