From the mustardy pungency of Jhal Muri from a road side vendor to the silky Mishti Doi from an established brand, the story today has myriad flavours and textures. Having born and brought up in Delhi, still never managed to get to Chittaranjan Park, a sort of mini Bengal here in the capital city. Last Sunday, four of us got together and explored this colony for the wonderful food it has on offer. Based on the expertise acquired by my friend, Ajay Kumar Singh, by virtue of his living in the locality for over a decade and my net based research we had a gala time.
Our Food exploration journey started with a reasonably large portion of Jhal Muri. This typical Calcutta style roadside vendor sets up his kiosk on a dimly lit spot on the I Block Road. Seemed quite popular with the locals as even at around 830 pm, he had a continuous stream of customers. For a measly sum of INR 15 we got a reasonably good amount of Jhal Muri; a mixture of Puffed Rice, Fried Peanuts, Boiled Potatoes, Green Chillies, Coriander, Onions, some masala, Lemon Juice and of course a good amount of Raw Mustard Oil. You taste a small amount and it is a symphony of textures and flavours. The pungency of mustard oil will blow you away.
Having awakened our taste buds off the slumber, we walked across to the nearby Market No 1. There’s no street food walk without the Bengali Puchka (What we call Gol Gappe or Pani Puri). So, the first halt was Raju Puchka which already had a queue. We waited patiently for our turn. Yes, when the turn came, I realised it was worth it. There were only Atta Puchka (they don’t use the Suji version). These big sized puffed balls were filled with a tangy concoction of mashed potatoes with spices and followed by the tangy chilled water. Oooh !! One after the other, these water balls tickled the taste buds like anything. When I asked the vendor to add a bit of sweet Chutney, he added half a spoon on the potato filled Puchka. No water ( in north a drop of Saunth Chutney is added to the water to give it a sweet-sour taste). This was the signal that we are done. This was for just INR 40 for a serving of 5 Puchkas.
Our next stop was to have Ghugnee. I never knew that a non veg version of this road side snack also existed. Run by Baruah, a decent looking man, this make shift kiosk at the back of the market had two big vessels full of Veg and Non Veg versions. Our order was of course for Mutton Ghugnee. A concoction of Boiled Chickpeas in a thick gravy was filled in a bowl and was topped up with Bhujia, chopped Onions, Coriander and Lemon Juice. The first spoonful in the mouth told you that each grain was intact yet melt- in-mouth. The tangy gravy had a mild flavour of mutton curry with small chunks of super soft mutton. The softness of grains and meat combined with crunch of bhujia and onions was again a symphony of textures and flavours. Would have ordered more but since had to try many other things so settled for getting two portions packed for home. This treat came to us for a royal sum of INR 40 per plate full of goodness.
Before saying goodbye to this market, I was given a quick round of the Fish Market within the market with a crash course on how to buy fresh fish.
Our next halt was Market No 2. Having reached there, one of us insisted that unless he has Chicken Tikka, his cravings for non veg doesn’t get addressed. Quite interesting.
Ajay took us to Sameer’s; a takeaway barbecue joint. We ordered a plate each of Chicken Tikka and Mutton Tikka. They were served in a takeaway plate and were piping hot. Once unveiled, the Tikkas gave a meaty-spicy aroma. A quick morsel in the mouth and it was full of flavourful spices and a super tender meat. This was Mutton Tikka. I was surprised that this typical Mughlai style mutton was soft beyond imagination. This prompted me to try out the Chicken version. This one again was full of flavours and super soft. Frankly, both the meats were done in almost same spices and yet the quality and variety of the meat made all the difference. Both stood out uniquely. From now on, this is my favorite place for Tikkas. Both of these came for INR 310.
Our halt now was Dadu Cutlet Shop where we really feasted. Our spread included Beguni , Mutton Cutlet, Mutton Chop, Mocha Chop and Mutton-Egg Mughlai Parantha.
We started with the golden fried Beguni, a deep fried fritter made of sliced Egg Plant, which is dusted with basic spices. The Beguni was served straight out of the wok. It was super hot and gave out an inviting aroma. It was quite a challenge to bite the hot fritter. After a bit of a struggle, it was a pure bliss for the taste buds. Crispy outer with silky inner. Do I need to say more ?
Mocha Chop was the next in the order. Mocha is that dark red coloured Banana Flower. The grated Mocha was infused in mashed potatoes, onions and spices. The dark brown crust was crispy and the next layer was spicy with mild hint of the sweetness of Mocha. The Mutton Chop though had a similar appearance and texture, but had a predominant flavour of the minced meat. The Mutton Cutlet was huge in size with a crispy outer crust. The flavourful meat minced meat and in no less quantity made this cutlet stand out.
The hero of the evening was yet to arrive. The Mughlai Parantha, a shallow flat bread which is stuffed with minced meat and has a layer of egg in between the crust and the studding. This golden brown Parantha was huge. For the convenience of eating, it was cut into six equal portions. I tore away a portion and it was piping hot, crispy and gave the aroma of fried flour. A bite and it was yet again an ensemble of textures and flavours. The crispy crust leads you to the eggy layer which gives way to the meaty delight. Two three bites in quick succession and each one surprised you with the variety of the flavours. But yes, it was heavy. Consuming a full Mughlai Parantha is no mean feat. Frankly, four of us couldn’t finish it and the residual had to be packed for later consumption. It is a must have.
All the items were served with sliced onions and Green Chutney. One has to be careful with the Chutney as it’s really hot with lot of chilies infused. Our entire order was served to us in around INR 300 and were damn full.
No Bengali Food Exploration can be completed without sweets. Although there are many a famous brands in the vicinity but Ajay insisted we go to Kamala Sweets in K1 Block, He was dead right in his choice. From a large variety, we picked up Mishti Doi (a natural choice) and Sondesh (again quite a natural choice). Set in an earthen bowl, this fermented yoghurt had a creamy-silky consistency with mild sweetness. The pale white colour told about the apt consistency of the thickened milk in boiling and the use of jaggery. Similarly, the Sondesh, a milk and cottage cheese based sweetmeat, was aptly moist, soft and sweet. The place rightly claims to be a “Sweet Connoisseur” as it has a large variety and the tastes of the items we tasted, spoke a lot about the quality.
This locality is surely a Foodies’ Paradise. The markets were full of food enthusiasts (like the four of us above) and almost every outlet had it own loyal following. Rightly, people from Bengal love their food and enjoy it thoroughly. Well, some North Indians like me, too. I shall have to pay quite a few visits for there are many more eateries await to be tried out. Till then…